Vocal Works

Dokkodo

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.

Double Ozymandias

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

SATB

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

SSAATTBB

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

SATB

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.

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© 2016 by Kevin Joest

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