for treble voices, soprano and piano
To be invited to write for a cappella treble, or youth, choir took my breath away. For a composer accustomed to writing larger-than-life music, it seemed impossible to distill myself down so. But I was intrigued. In this traumatic post-9/11 world, I felt an urge to connect with, and even comfort, the youngest generation of budding musicians. "Heart" and "felt" are two words that directed my choice of texts: I wanted to tell something about myself, as well as about the joys of childhood (as best I remember them).
"Sabbath's Child" (Proclamation) takes a well-known Anonymous text that particularly appeals to me for its last line: "and the child that is born on the Sabbath day / Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay." My setting emphasizes the words "good" and "gay" — a gentle urging (by me, if not by Anonymous) towards a gay-friendlier world.
Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Little Land" (Barcarolle) is from his beloved "A Children's Garden of Verses" and re-creates the imaginative world that to daydreaming children seems so natural:
What at home alone I sit
And am very tired of it,
I have just to shut my eyes
To go sailing trough the skies —
And so the young sailor embarks upon a wonderful Victorian adventure, tinged with disappointment when he at last opens his eyes to find only "High bare walls, great bare floor,..." Come sail with us!
My setting (Fuga) of the 1727 New England Primer's "Alphabet" might horrify its Puritan author by transforming its simple text into an exuberant tour de force. Its 26 couplets tumble upon one another in tight three-part counterpoint, testing the young performers' range and endurance alike.
My valedictory, and most extended, anthem is Robert Burns' "Highlands Farewell" (Aria), whose first (and oft-repeated) line, "My heart's in the Highlands," suggested to me the overall title for these anthems. This poem indeed touches my heart and, as I see it, offers a passionate and reluctant farewell to childhood itself. The sense of moment is emphasized by augmenting the choral forces with a soprano soloist and pianist, who open the work with an extended aria. The ensuing choral commentary and soprano cadenza lead to a repetition and climactic development of the aria theme, now shared by chorus, soloist and piano equally. Like childhood and all good things, however, this comes to an end, as it must...eventually. Here, the ending is a triumphant C-major chord, capped by a high C for all the sopranos.