I’ve begun work on a newly commissioned piece for an honor choir in the area of Nampa, Idaho. The lyric I’ve selected is this poem by Witter Bynner:
Except within poetic pale
I have not found a nightingale,
Nor hearkened in a dusky vale
To song and silence blending:
No stock-dove have I ever heard,
Nor listened to a cuckoo bird,
Nor seen a lark ascending.
But I have felt a pulse-beat start
Because a robin, spending
The utmost of his simple art
Some of his pleasure to impart
While twilight came descending,
Has found an answer in my heart,
A sudden comprehending.
This commission is for a regional chorus of high school students. I selected this poem so that I can use the songs of the specified birds as a basis for themes in the polyphonic vocal lines. My hope is that it will teach the students about the calls of each bird , but I also hope to pique their interest in the sounds of the world around them and how they might be transcribed, layered, and arranged to create art music. I’m just getting started on this composition which will have accompaniment for piano and strings, and I’m excited to meet the challenge of setting these bird calls for the various instruments and voices. I hope to be pretty well-versed in the songs of nightingales, stock-doves, cuckoos, larks, and robins by Sunday! I used the mating call of the male robin in one movement of my recent song cycle “Your John Keats,” so I’m looking forward to diving in a little deeper for a truly cacophonous result.