I rise and bless the gentle shores,
The first whisp’ring of the birds,
Shining slopes, the crisp breeze.
Because I’ve seen you,
And I know you too well, dark city walls,
Where hate follows sorrow as it’s companion,
And I will rise, and in sorrow I will live,
And so die, and soon.
“I picked up a copy of Leopardi’s Canti years ago while specifically looking for a text to set to music. I was really struck by the jarring shifts in mood that are present in a lot of his work, which sometimes make reading it an unsettling experience. I found his descriptions of nature particularly evocative, especially when used to try to make sense of the darker aspects of humanity. After listening, I hope that the audience is able to take a few moments to reflect on the fleeting nature of feelings, both positive and negative. Life is made up of moments and some moments, like this music and poetry, are neither happy nor sad, but some combination of both.” - Matthew Donnelly
The work is comprised of three short program pieces, each with its own vignette and distinct character. The overall work is an exercise in the ability of the voice to become an instrument in its own right. Each piece will utilize the voice not only to produce pitch, but to create a soundscape in which the music can reside. The text is comprised of syllables, not words. There is no doubt the power of the human voice to convey emotion, but even words can have limitations. The title of each movement is a location in the world where its people are currently suffering from extreme injustices. The specific narratives remain somewhat personal to the composer, but are outlined generally below.
ALEPPO: A young child is caught in the turmoil and devastation of the war zone they once called home. Through sheer desperation and help from an elder, they are led to safety.
NAMPO: The ancestral call of Arirang (a Korean folk song) anchors a citizen of North Korea to their hope for a better future. Through meditation, they are able to remain focused in the face of societal imprisonment.
DALORI: A village in Nigeria is ravaged by Boko Haram, a terrorist organization that kidnaps children and women. The town of Dalori is left abandoned and washed clean by a torrent of spring rain.
Dark, Eager percussion at the window,
The trees bending at the wood
Wind’s crescendo, forte its forte
What here growls, roars
At the next town over
Where they laugh at the blue and chide
Midwest capricious, scarred history
Of flood and erosion. Of hunger and
Spring. Dirty thirties and bloody
Kansas knew the thunder
Is what makes the pale buds open.
Head bowed, he descends
From the porch. Leaves make a crown
He’s never once seen. Every window storm black.
Next door, they peer up and wait.
"A storm turns the room" was originally premiered as an octet at The Drugstore Studios in 2019, but is receiving its first performance as a full choir with KC VITAs. The poet, Meghan Mohn, is a close friend of mine, and I have used their poetry for several other pieces, as the imagery and sensitivity of their words gives me a great base for expressing the text musically; it almost feels as if the tone and sensibility of the poetry and its intentional line breaks write much of the music themselves. I aimed to incorporate a touch of experimental vocal writing into a framework of more standard choral writing, and I hope there is something new this piece can introduce into the audience's ears to whet their curiosity of the diverse potential of vocal sounds.” - Kota Hayton
Aleia Gonzalez Gulino, guitar;
Matthew Bennett, violin;
Shupei Wang, violin;
Laura Eakman, viola;
Audrey Herren, cello;
Charles Dickinson, piano
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Kirsten Hyde, mezzo-soprano;
Josh Donaldson, tenor;
Matthew Bennett, violin;
Audrey Herren, cello;
Christina Webster, flute;
Doug Talley, clarinet;
Cara Tucker, glockenspiel;
Charles Dickinson, piano
Our car broke down in Sinclair.
Two weeks of driving back and forth across the country
Hours away from home,
The transmission grew tired of of our explorations
And demanded a break.
Our girl danced out from the gas station
to hug her favorite green dinosaur
while we ate greasy sandwiches for lunch
To travel on
And I thought about how complicated
To be wise and good.
In this tiny town all alone in the middle of a
Tangle of brush and railroad tracks
Sitting on top of a puddle of oil:
Lighter of lights and runner of engines,
Binder in the colors my girl will use to draw her green dinosaur friend
The ventilator that wrapped around her the day she was born
So she could live to ride in our oily car
On the oily road
With her oily crayons
And oily clothes
Was created from the same oily death
Woven so deep, so complete, into the fabric of our existence
That it cannot be pulled out without pain
Cannot be pulled out without blood
Maybe cannot be pulled out at all.
And we will suffocate on our own success.
As we built our own extinction
on extinctions before us
Long, long before us -
On that green dinosaur who is laughing with our girl
Or maybe at her . . .
Laughing at the wonderful, colorful, well-lit way we go:
Our stubborn car following black rivers across the country
Chasing eclipses and
childhood heroes and
Things we left behind
And futures drooping with hope.
Which may not be enough to carry us through
If the world we built
On the back of the black
Falls to pieces.
We choose to worship a god who gives us everything
Worship her as she, with glinting eyes,
hovers over our days
Stealing it all back
and more …
On the Back of the Black is a setting of Tierza Askren’s poem “Complicated.” The work is an introspective snapshot of a simple, personal scene: the poet’s car breaks down in the middle of a family road-trip, and as she watches her daughter play on the big Sinclair dinosaur at the service station, the poet muses on the myriad ways in which our lives are interwoven with the black sludge from deep in the earth. From the gas and oil that power her failing car, to the rubber of the tires and tar of the road, to her daughter’s crayons, to the plastic incubator and ventilator tubes that saved her baby’s life years ago, oil has enabled and supported and propelled humankind’s greatest achievements. But our dependence on these same products has set in motion a cataclysmic process of mass extinction that every day becomes harder to avoid.
This is a challenging text, but it’s also a beautiful, nuanced reflection of uncertainty, fear, and love. As a whole human family, we have finally come face to face with the global consequences of tremendous innovation and our insatiable greed. Do we face that reality with courage, with wisdom, and with the recognition that there are very few options left? It is a reality that must be reckoned with, because this is the only home we have.
Rebecca Ballinger Clark
Stella Dayrit Roden
Charles & Michael Ballew-Paque
Wayne & Lynn Dothage
Fran & Kent Gard
Erika & Kevin Sweeney
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