SATB / Chimes or Prepared Piano
Dokkodo was inspired by Arvo Pärt’s work The Beatitudes. In it, Pärt sets the text of Jesus’ sermon in his tintinnabuli style. It is very simple and very elegant, and the declamatory, almost matter-of-factness of the Beatitudes lends itself to a more “pattern-oriented” setting as opposed to a flowery one. The text I used here is from 17th century Taoist warrior Miyamoto Musashi. On his deathbed he wrote Dokkodo, which translates roughly to “The Way to Be Followed Alone.” This is a string of 21 precepts on self-discipline. I read these simple, ceremonial mantras and immediately thought of them as a perfect text for an experiment in the tintinnabuli style.
Soprano / Alto / String Quintet
Double Ozymandias was inspired by two poems, on the same subject and of the same form, but are very different. In 1818, Percy Shelley and his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith made a friendly wager to both write a sonnet on the same theme - the rise and inevitable fall of the greatest civilizations - using a statue of Ramses II as the central focus. The poet whose poem was published first would win; Shelley’s poem won, which is why it is so famous to us today. It begins with a colossal quintal chord (a chord built entirely of perfect fifths) in the strings. Traditionally, fifths are perceived as having a “hollow” quality, and to have them stacked so high suggests a sort of “empty skyscraper,” once full but now just a shell, a remnant of a long-forgotten way of life. This chord recurs several times throughout the piece, underlying the name “Ozymandias.” Long, stretched phrases in the strings and many repeated notes in the voice parts depict long expanses of time, the kind of time it takes for a civilization to rise and fall, until all thats left is a fragment of what was the pinnacle of human existence.
Dust was written in August of 2015 for the Sine Nomine Choral Ensemble’s call for scores. The text was inspired by a YouTube video by Phil Hellenes, an astrophysicist whose brilliantly poignant philosophical monologues have had a great influence on my life and how I see our place in the universe. The “dust” referred to in the score is actually the stardust from which we are all made, we, in turn, are “dust that sings, dust that loves, dust that dreams.” He ends the video with a thought that has resonated with me for many months as of this writing: “Some things are as close to miracles as to make hardly any difference at all.”
Jubilatio was composed in July 2018 for the Hendrix College Candlelight Carol Competition. The prompt of the contest was to compose a new work appropriate for a Lessons & Carols Service based around an existing carol. My favorite holiday carol is “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” whose verses are a neat packaging of the seven antiphons sung at each Advent service leading up to Christmas, the so-called “O Antiphons” (each begins with “O” as an invocation). The openings of these antiphons are set as a calm, rocking backdrop in Jubilatio. The melodic material comes from two Christmas chants: “Laetabundus” (“abounding joy”), a sequence for Christmas Day, and “Gaudete” (rejoice”), a medieval hymn, both of which express unfettered excitement for the birth of Christ. These are set as faster, less restrained textures.
The Christmas season for me is fraught with a potent mixture of joy, fear, contentedness, and anticipation. Jubilatio seeks to explore the simultaneity of the season: Advent looks forward to Christmas, that which has happened, but also the Second Coming, which is promised; Christmas is joyful and content and fulfilling, but also full of unease & stress, all at the same time. Jubilatio distills all these, and juxtaposes together in an exuberant whirlwind.
Lost Atoms is inspired by an epic poem entitled The Parliament of the Birds, wherein a group of birds set off on a long and winding journey to seek out their king. After much hardship, storytelling, and self discovery, they reach the place where the king is said to reside. Instead of finding a leader to whom they can swear allegiance as they had hoped, they find only a crystal clear pool of water, wherein they see themselves reflected. The text used in Lost Atoms comes from the chant the birds recite upon their discovery that they must figure out a way to rule themselves as a collective. I found this, in our world that is in some senses post-apocalyptic in its own absurdity, both galvanizing and comforting. It reminds me, when I need it most, that we are a collective humanity, physicality forged of stardust, intellectually godlike, spiritually allied to each other.
Prometheus was inspired by the Lorelei Ensemble, a Boston-based women’s choir. Their artistry and immaculate performance was the impetus for this work. In the spring of 2012, I acquired a volume of Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound and Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound paired together. I chose twelve words from both play and poem according to the Fibonacci sequence and set each the number of times corresponding to their place (i.e. in 'Bound,' the word “father” is the thirteenth word in Prometheus Bound, and is set thirteen times). While on the surface the words seem random and unrelated, there are deep connotative connections - almost a story told with vivid images rather than gregarious script. On a large scale, the word field from 'Bound' is set in an angular and stark sound world, reflecting the high degree of action in the original play. The field from 'Unbound' seeks to unlock the romantic emotional content hidden in that action, and is set in a much softer and flowing texture. In both, there is no word that is inherently more important than the other, rather it is their juxtaposition, frequency, and musical weight that allows these images to highlight different aspects of each story.
SSAATTBB / String Quintet / Chimes
Sapphic Meditations was born out of a vortex of several coexisting ideas and inspirations. It began with a desire for a piece built from extrapolated processes and recursions, where a procedure is run repeatedly using the output of an iteration as the input for the next iteration. This allowed for a great quantity of music to be derived from a small amount of initial elements. As similar material was to be repeated throughout these recursive processes, I needed compelling, but very short, bits of text; the fragments of Sappho were a perfect choice for this.
Sappho herself is associated with queer identity and has generally been understood by scholars throughout history as being (at least) bisexual. When this work was being designed, I was looking for a metaphor for gender-transition, and found that the rainbow (aside from being the obvious choice) was an elegant analogy as it is the symbol of diversity-out-of-unity: many colors from a single beam of light. Research into rainbows led to the form of this work, which morphed into a sort of stylized guided meditation using the rainbow orders as canon levels, and helping structure the patterns of ensemble usage throughout.
Finally, the goal of the work crystalized after I read a review of a work I composed in late 2017 that dealt very directly with gun violence in the United States and public reaction to it. The piece was performed on a concert of politic-centered works, and the reviewer commented that each seemed to be simply anger-turned-art, and their performance was to audiences that generally already held the same viewpoints conveyed. Thus the echo-chamber effect created was not “useful,” and these works were just adding to the noise. While I disagree that anger-turned-art is useless in a time of upheaval, I wondered what “useful” art might be like in a culture defined by digital shouting, volume equaling truth, and endless barrages of words & actions against others. I decided that a quiet space carved out to reflect, contemplate, & ponder would be a powerful antidote: what better meditations subjects in these times are unity through diversity, and love for other humans?
Sapphic Meditations combines all these elements into a rich, resonant tapestry that allows for contemplation on the themes from Sappho’s elegant texts - love, nostalgia, loss, and beauty - as well as the themes that are illustrated in the formal and textural constructions: diversity in unity, perspective, and beauty from unexpected places.
Tenor / String Quartet
Somnium-Recursum was inspired by the simple idea of recursion: a function that loops back to act on itself through different layers of operation. The piece is, really, a three-song set where each song nests in the others as to create three distinct recursive levels: the dreamer, the dream, and the meta-dreamer. As one might expect, the dreamer is the physical level (the human having the dream) and the dream level is the dream itself. But the meta-dreamer lifts out of the dream, uniquely able to rise above and reflect back. This objective separation is the recursive function: as the meta-dreamer reflects on the dream, is influenced by it, becomes the new dreamer, and the cycle begins anew.
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