Semi-Finalist for the 2014 American Prize in Composition for Choral Music
about 9 minutes and 30 seconds
Three-part Women’s Choir: Soprano I, Soprano II, & Alto
with Piano Accompaniment
Life is the first finished piece of a desired long-term project to be spanned over the next ten years. The long-term project is to be a collection of ten choral works celebrating women’s perspectives of life through a medley of a female poets from different centuries, the female composer, and featuring a three-part women’s choir and piano.
The piece itself, Life, is a setting of Charlotte Brontë’s poem. Overall, the piece presents introspection and musings through dual thematic content first presented in the opening introduction of the piano, who acts as the narrator’s subconscious emotions and obsession. The first theme consists of a loose motivic structure, whose opening harmony consists of a simple i-iio-V6 4, which alters, expands, and transforms throughout the piece. The second theme is a hauntingly simple and minimal melody, built upon the layering of two pentatonic scales-like tetra chords: C, G, D, and A; A, E, B, and F#. The common-tone, A, is in the bass, which allows the melody to flow in-between both pitch collections. In comparison, the vocal lines are the conscious thoughts and declarations that use both thematic materials. Despite the seriousness of the content, dry puns and tongue-in-cheek references are made to create a multidimensional layering of vocalizations. For example, with nods to Charlotte Brontë’s masculine pseudonym, Curer Bell, the alto sings several steady low-register notes invoking a pseudo-masculine voice beginning in the second stanza of the poem, and the opening word: manfully” is highlighted in the final stanza by all three vocal parts. The phrase “quell despair” is another example of a play on words, by the end of the piece, this phrase returns with “quell,” invoking the French word “quel,” translated as “what,” making the a capella ending to invoke a rhetorical “what despair.”
By Charlotte Brontë
Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Enjoy them as they fly!
What though death at times steps in
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!