“Stars Over Snow” Premiere + Recording

Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to hear BYU Singers perform the world premiere of “Stars Over Snow.” It was incredible. The performance was electric and the reception was very warm. I’m still buzzing from what a beautiful night it was.

Night
by Sara Teasdale

Stars over snow,
And in the west a planet
Swinging below a star—
Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far—
It never will be far.

Here is a recording:

Stars Over Snow – Barlow Endowment Commission Finished!

I realize that it has been a LOOOOOOOOOONG time since I last posted. I’m trying to make up for that.

Back in August, I was awarded a commission by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. The commission was an a cappella choral piece between 5 and 8 minutes for the Brigham Young University Singers to take on tour to China. I’ve been working on it quite a bit ever since. At first, Dr. Staheli (who was going to premiere the piece) suggested that I write a mood piece with a few words, rather than setting a narrative poem. I worked on that for a few solid months and wasn’t really happy with what was happening.

I don’t like sending sketches or early drafts of my work to anybody. I try and wait until a piece is “finished” or at least thoroughly constructed before delivering it. However, because things weren’t really gelling on this piece, I decided to sent it to Dr. Staheli anyway. After sending it by email I got a call soon afterwards. After some reassuring/loving disclaimers he simply said, “It’s not working.” We talked for a bit and he pretty much vocalized all of my own doubts about the work. I was very grateful to get such honest and open feedback from a person I trust so implicitly.

We talked about possible solutions and we both agreed that the best course of action was to start over. We talked about possible texts, bounced around some possibilities and eventually he recommended a six-line poem by Sara Teasdale. It’s been a personal favorite of mine called “Night.”

Stars over snow,
And in the west a planet
Swinging below a star—
Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far—
It never will be far.

– Sara Teasdale

Eventually, work began on the piece which was going much better than before. I see the poem in two halves of three lines each and structured the piece accordingly. The second half simply expounds on the first half. Seek out that which is beautiful, true, and uplifting and it will be abundant. It reminds me of a quote by Henri Matisse: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” It’s also closely related to these words by Leonardo da Vinci: “There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.” I often find myself in those last two classes.

I’ve finished the piece and BYU Singers is currently rehearsing it. I’ve already had some great conversations about making little changes here and there to polish out all the rough spots. The premiere will be on Friday, March 13th (yes, Friday the 13th) in the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU. I’ll be there in person!

In the meantime, here are the first two pages:

StarsOverSnow1

StarsOverSnow2

The Atlanta Singers Premiere “Desert Pools”

I just learned that the Atlanta Singers, directed by David Morrow, will be performing my composition “Water Lilies,” and premiere my piece, “Desert Pools” on Friday, April 26th at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center. Both are settings of poems by Sara Teasdale. If you’re in the Atlanta area you should go check it out! I wont be able to be there, but I’m sure it’ll be great. Here’s a poster of their event:

Atlanta Singers

New Piece: Desert Pools

Oh my flippin’ heck it’s done! Holy moly that was painful and long.

I love the poetry of Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) and have found so many beautiful poems by her.  There are a few of her poems that have been set to music (by a large number of composers) but she has numerous poems that get overlooked and cry out to be set to music.  “Desert Pools,” in my opinion, is one of them:

“I love too much; I am a river
Surging with spring that seeks the sea,
I am too generous a giver,
Love will not stoop to drink of me.

His feet will turn to desert places
Shadowless, reft of rain and dew,
Where stars stare down with sharpened faces
From heavens pitilessly blue.

And there at midnight sick with faring,
He will stoop down in his desire
To slake the thirst grown past all bearing
In stagnant water keen as fire.”

These words moved me so much; It’s teeming with energy and life and I couldn’t ignore it.  I knew that I needed to set it to music.  That was over a year ago.  I finished “Water Lilies,” “In Paradisum,” and “Crux Fidelis” during the time I spent writing this.  I don’t know why, but this had to marinate for a year.

Whenever I finish a piece I feel that I make at least one or two breakthroughs in my writing.  Every breakthrough helps me become a better writer but can mean quite a bit of pain and anxiety.  I had probably five or six with this one.

I see this as a companion piece with “Water Lilies,” and hope to see them performed side by side one day.

Here’s the first page . . . still some stuff to do:

“Water Lilies” Finished!

Wow!  This was a doozy.  I just finished writing “Water Lilies,” from a poem by Sara Teasdale.  Such a moody, haunting poem.  I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.  It took a while to finally get a sense of what it was supposed to sound like.  Here are the words again:

“If you have forgotten water lilies floating
On a dark lake among mountains in the afternoon shade,
If you have forgotten their wet, sleepy fragrance,
Then you can return and not be afraid.

But if you remember, then turn away forever
To the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart,
There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies,
And the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.”

-Sara Teasdale

As you can tell, it’s really has nothing to do with water lilies, but what an image.  The great temptation here is to write programatically.  I tried to resist, but some stuff still came out.  Oh well, what can you do?  Instead, I really tried to capture the feelings of these image.  The mood of watching water lilies floating.  So I used a lot of tritones.  I think that’s the most important interval in this piece.  There’s a section of secundal harmonies and I even used some aleatoric devices.

I’m hesitant to post any sort of sample of what I’ve written because I really don’t know if any of this will work.  It’s REALLY difficult.  I’m not gonna lie and say that it’s “Moderately Difficult,” like so many publishers would.  This is flippin’ hard!  I really don’t know if any of it is feasible or even if it flows the way it should.  I like a lot of things about it, but it’s still really, really rough.  It’s probably going to change quite a bit before I feel confident enough to post a sample here.

Anyway, here’s to the future!