Composing “Songs from a Quaker Heart”

What fun to hear the rehearsal of “Songs from a Quaker Heart” last night. This new music SATB chorus and piano is getting its premiere by the Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus, who commissioned it.

The poems are by Marian Kaplun Shapiro, a fellow resident of Lexington, MA. So many of Marian’s poems are direct observation of the little things happening all around us. She juxtaposes these little things in startling ways, and I feel enlightened, just a little, by the interesting and emotionally laden comparisons.

Challenges of one poem

For example, consider her poem “Spring Sunlight”. The downward/upward motion of each comparison intrigues me. She’s encapsulated the idea of positive/negative and growth/decay in just a few words.

Spring Sunlight
by Marian Kaplun Shapiro

Green leaves growing
Photograph fading

Hair greying
Forsythia yellowing

Turtles mating
Candlestick tarnishing

Sparrow waking
me. You sleeping.

But each line is so short!, and the contrasts need to confront each other. It took me a while to find a musical treatment lasting longer than 30 seconds. My setting dwells on each pair of contrasts, developing a mood and texture for each pair. Then there’s a shape-shifting in the last two lines as the rhythm changes and the action spills into the last line, which I highlight with a surprise chord change.

Five poems for five choral settings

The five movements of “Songs from a Quaker Heart” (with quotes from the poems) are:

  1. Quaker Meeting – “Quiet. Door open. Bird sings…”
  2. Life, In Conjunction – “and but why …”
  3. Leaves – “parachuting through the cross-winds of autumn…”
  4. Spring Sunlight – “Green leaves growing…”
  5. House Oratorio – “…It’s our time at last, sings Refrigerator…”

Emotional ups and downs

In November, I was deeply into memories of my father when Triad performed Deepest Shade, my reaction to his increasing dementia back in 2010.

For December, I’m offering music from a delightfully brighter place, still rich with a range of life experiences. But much happier!

The concert is Sunday December 4, 2016 at 3:30pm at Payson Park Church, 365 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478.

The Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus is directed by Barry Singer.

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