Currents in Time

Megan Ihnen mezzo-soprano

Dawn Sonntag composer
Jason Huffman composer
Andrew Lewinter composer
Gregory W. Brown composer
David W. Solomons composer
Regina Harris Baiocchi composer
Ferdinando DeSena composer
Jennifer Castellano composer
Danya Katok composer
Charles Corey composer
Jesse Guessford composer

Marianne Parker piano
Michael Hall viola
Darrel Hale bassoon

Release Date: July 8, 2022
Catalog #: NV6443
Format: Digital
21st Century
Solo Instrumental
Vocal Music
Piano
Viola
Voice

There are great singers, and then there are great singers who break the mold, pushing both the musical and organizational boundaries of their craft. American mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen impressively demonstrates her affiliation with the latter group on CURRENTS IN TIME, once more employing her formidable talents as both a 21st-century vocalist and impresaria to shine a light on a varied array of contemporary composers.

CURRENTS IN TIME showcases the profundity of the human voice in a prime selection of a cappella and subtly orchestrated compositions, whose lyrical foundations are as diverse as the emotional states transported: from grief to joy, modesty to hubris, and self-doubt to unshakable faith and valor. A joint effort which, thanks to Ihnen’s competent aegis and musicianship, proves to be far more than the sum of its parts.

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Performance Video

David Solomons – The Centipede | Megan Ihnen, mezzo-soprano; Darrel Hale, bassoon

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Come Up from the Fields, Father Dawn Sonntag Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Marianne Parker, piano 6:49
02 Sea Calm, Moonlight Night, Island: I. Sea Calm Jason Huffman Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano 1:21
03 Sea Calm, Moonlight Night, Island: II. Moonlight Night: Carmel Jason Huffman Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano 1:21
04 Sea Calm, Moonlight Night, Island: III. Island Jason Huffman Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano 1:20
05 Because I could not stop for Death Andrew Lewinter Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Marianne Parker, piano 4:48
06 Washing Water Buffalo in the Ocean Gregory W. Brown Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Darrel Hale, bassoon 3:50
07 The centipede - Le Mille-Pattes David W. Solomons Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Darrel Hale, bassoon 2:34
08 Landscapes Regina Harris Baiocchi Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Michael Hall, viola; Marianne Parker, piano 8:20
09 O Rose! Who Dares to Name Thee? Ferdinando DeSena Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Marianne Parker, piano 9:00
10 Mine to Keep Jennifer Castellano Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Marianne Parker, piano 2:05
11 ‘Tis a Fearful Thing Danya Katok Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano 1:27
12 Symmetries of Consciousness: I. Connubial Charles Corey Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Michael Hall, viola 6:19
13 Symmetries of Consciousness: II. On the Fourth Day Charles Corey Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Michael Hall, viola 2:32
14 River House: I. How do you picture the shape of a year Jesse Guessford Megan Ihnen, Mezzo-soprano; Marianne Parker, piano 5:55

Recorded November 29-30, December 1-3, 2021 at Murray and Michele Allen Recital Hall, DePaul University, Chicago IL
Producer Brad Michel
Recording Engineer Hudson Fair

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Danielle Lewis, Quinton Blue, Jacob Smith, Morgan K Santos

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Production Director Levi Brown
Production Assistant Martina Watzková
Editing, Mixing & Mastering Brad Michel

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming, Morgan Hauber
Publicity Patrick Niland, Brett Iannucci
Content Manager Sara Warner

Artist Information

Megan Ihnen

Mezzo-Soprano

Megan Ihnen is a “new music force of nature.” The act of live performance is integral to Ihnen’s work and her performances thrive on elaborate sound worlds and fully-developed dramatic interpretations. Through narrative and non-narrative musical storytelling, she explores the subjects of memory, nostalgia, the perception of time, and relationships. Whether through chamber music, staged recitals, opera, or large ensemble soloist work, she emphasizes the full range of vocal sounds, timbres, colors, and uses that characterize the 21st century voice.

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Dawn Sonntag

Composer

Composer Dawn Sonntag translates the experience of being human into music that has been called “hauntingly lyrical” (Schaumburg-Lippe Landeszeitung), “visceral,” and “freshly relevant.” Her operas have been featured at the Cleveland Opera Theater’s New Opera Works festival, the Hartford Women’s Composers Festival, the Hartford Opera Theater’s New in November festival, and the Opera from Scratch festival in Halifax. Based on the true story of World War II refugees, her first opera, Verlorene Heimat, for which she wrote the libretto and music, won Honorable Mention in the 2021 American Prize for composition. Her settings of Sara Teasdale’s poetry are included in the new Modern Music for New Singers: 21st Century American Art Song.

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Jason Huffman

Jason Huffman

Composer

Jason Huffman (b.1978) was born and raised just outside Minneapolis and has made Boston his home for over 20 years. Though not exposed to classical music at an early age, he was drawn to self-taught score study after performing a band arrangement of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in high school. From there emerged a fledgling series of solo works — mostly in concerto form — for various instruments and full orchestra as studies in writing, first for his own instrument, and then for more-and less-familiar ones (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, horn, violin, horn, clarinet, oboe).

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Andrew Lewinter

Composer

As a young person, Andrew Lewinter divided his attention between composition and the French horn, studying composition at Juilliard in the pre-college division, and horn with William Ver Meulen, Dale Clevenger, and David Jolley. He attended Northwestern University School of Music, but left after his sophomore year to pursue a career as an orchestral horn player, playing with the Florida Orchestra in Tampa, Florida (1986-88) and Principal Horn with both the Florida Philharmonic (1988-2001) and the Santa Fe Opera (1994-97). He won the top prize at the Prague Spring International Solo Competition in 1992.

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Gregory W Brown

Gregory W. Brown

Composer

Composer Gregory W. Brown’s works have been performed across the United States and Europe — most notably in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Cadogan Hall in London, and the Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. His commissions for vocal ensemble New York Polyphony have been heard on American Public Media’s Performance Today, BBC Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Kansas Public Radio, and Danish National Radio; his Missa Charles Darwin received its European debut in March 2013 at the Dinosaur Hall of Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde.

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David Warin Solomons

Composer

David Warin Solomons (b. 1953) began his musical career relatively late, taking up the violin at the age of 14 and the classical guitar a few years after that. Most of his musical expression in composition has been based on the principle of "learning by doing," liberally seasoned with musical collaborations. The first of these collaborations, as far back as 1969, was with two pen-friends in France and Germany, which gave rise to several trios for the unusual combination of violin, trumpet, and piano. Solomons moved on to Christ Church at Oxford University in 1972 to study French and German and also began to sing there on a regular basis, eventually settling on alto as his preferred range. At Oxford he met lots of great musicians, many of whom had important influences on his compositional style.

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Regina Harris Baiocchi

Regina Harris Baochi

Composer

Regina Harris Baiocchi is a composer, author, and poet. Her music has been performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Philharmonic, U.S. Army Band, American Guild of Organists, Chicago Brass, Gaudete Brass, and Milwaukee Brass quintets, Lincoln Trio, Avalon String Quartet, and other acclaimed artists. Baiocchi has written music for symphony orchestra, a mass, libretto, opera, marimba concerto, hand drum concerto, ballet, chamber ensembles, choral, jazz, gospel, solo: voice, flute, oboe d’amore, bass oboe, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, piano, and pipe organ.

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Ferdinando DeSena

Composer

Ferdinando DeSena is a Miami composer born in Brooklyn NY. DeSena taught composition and electronic music at the New World School of the Arts from 2008 – 2020. He served on the faculty of the University of Miami from 1992 – 2009 and was Director of the Electronic Music Studio. His music has been performed throughout the continental United States and in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Argentina, Italy, Ireland, and Scotland. De Sena earned a B.A in Computer Music at Ithaca College, a Masters in Electronic Music, and a D.M.A. in Composition at the University of Miami. His principal teachers were Dennis Kam, Peter Rothbart, and Don Wilson. Ferdinando DeSena is a PARMA recording artist with several releases currently available.

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Jennifer Castellano

Composer

Jennifer Mary Castellano received her Bachelor of Arts in Music in classical piano from Manhattanville College and a Master of Music in composition from State University of New York at Purchase. She has studied piano with Donna DeAngelis, Catherine Coppola, and Flora Lu Kuan and composition with Mary Ann Joyce-Walter, Huang Ruo, and Joel Thome. She has also studied organ with David Baranowski and Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka.

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Danya Katok

Danya Katok

Composer

Danya Katok, originally from State College PA, is an exceptionally versatile vocalist whose repertoire ranges from the pure straight tone of plainchant to the lush soprano of the Romantic era and the exciting belt of musical theater. She has performed in many of the country's top concert halls, including all three stages at Carnegie Hall, the State Theater and David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Kennedy Center, and Symphony Hall. She made her New York City Opera debut as Max in Oliver Knussen's Where the Wild Things Are, a role for which she was praised by The New York Times as being “superb."

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Charles Corey

Composer

Charles Corey is an American composer holding a Ph.D. in Music Composition and Theory from the University of Pittsburgh. His approach to composition exploits and subverts the relationships that exist between different tuning systems. Corey's compositions, known for their unexpected, evocative harmonies and their strong dramatic arcs, have been played across Europe and the Americas by performers including Cikada Ensemble, Iktus Percussion, Kjell Tore Innervik, Ere Lievonen, Inverted Space, and Entelechron, and recognized by the Young Virtuosos Foundation, the Foundation for Modern Music, and the Sociedade Pró-Sinfônica de Limeira.

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Jesse Guessford

Jesse Guessford

Composer

Dr. Jesse Guessford serves as Director of Curriculum Undergraduate Education and as Associate Professor in the School of Music at George Mason University. Guessford received a B.S. in Music Education from West Chester University, a M.M. in Music Composition from the Crane School of Music, and a D.M.A. in Music Composition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Guessford has focused on the scholarship of teaching with and about technology and the music of John Cage. In addition, his music focuses on human and computer interplay.

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Marianne Parker

Pianist

Pianist Marianne Parker’s playing has been described as “a cut above…her sympathetic fingers offering well-sculpted phrases and impassioned pealing” (Chicago Classical Review). Her work can be heard on three commercially released albums, Pages intimes (2019), Pyano Sa (2020), and CURRENTS IN TIME from Navona Records featuring mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen. Parker is a curator for an upcoming anthology of 21st century works for solo piano through NewMusicShelf Publishing.

An active chamber musician, Parker’s first foray into new music was with her marimba and piano new music ensemble, L+M Duo, which she co-founded in 2016 along with marimbist Laurel Black. Parker is in demand locally, regionally, and nationally as collaborator and new music specialist. Recently, she has been a featured performer at the Bowling Green State University New Music Festival, James Madison University Contemporary Music Festival, Nief Norf Summer Festival, and many others. She serves as President of New Music Chicago, an organization that serves the city’s vast ecosystem of new music creators, and is a member of the 2022 cohort of the Global Leaders Program, an executive arts leadership program preparing professional musicians to become successful, socially impactful organizational leaders.

Parker performs with many prominent chamber ensembles across the Midwest, including Milwaukee’s Present Music, and Chicago’s Access Contemporary Music, Fourth Coast Ensemble, Crossing Borders Music, and more. Having served as the principal pianist for the Chicago Civic Orchestra under the tutelage of longtime Chicago Symphony Pianist Mary Sauer, Parker has performed under the batons of Riccardo Muti, Jaap Van Zweden, Michael Tilson Thomas, Ludovic Morlot, Carlos Miguel Prieto, and Michael Christy.

Parker’s work is driven by her passion to communicate the vibrancy and variety of classical music, especially to those who have yet to discover it.

Darrel Hale

Bassoonist

Darrel Hale joined the UNT College of Music in August of 2021 as the associate professor of bassoon. A native of Denver CO, he is Principal Bassoon of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. Prior to his position at UNT, he was a member of the faculty at Louisiana State University. He served as acting principal bassoon of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra under Lucas Richmond.

An active orchestral performer, he has also served as the principal bassoonist of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and Springfield Symphony Orchestra and has performed with several other orchestras including the Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Chamber Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic, Dayton Philharmonic, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Gulf Port Symphony, Shreveport Symphony, Meridian Symphony, Chattanooga Symphony, and Cincinnati Symphony Chamber Players. As a fellow at the Aspen Music Festival, Hale performed as a member of the Aspen Academy of Conducting Orchestra under Maestro David Zinman and for three summers as the second bassoon in the Aspen Festival Orchestra alongside Per Hannevold. Hale comes to the University of North Texas from Louisiana State University where he was an associate professor.

A dedicated teacher, Hale has presented masterclasses in a variety of venues including the International Double Reed Society Conference in 2019, Meg Quigley Symposium Pre-College Camp in 2021, Hot Springs Festival, Midwest Musical Imports Master Class Series, and at many universities and conservatories throughout the United States including the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Texas Austin, Baylor University, Ohio State University, University of Kentucky, University of Southern Mississippi, and University of Georgia Athens. During the 2020 Covid pandemic, Hale worked with colleagues Ann Shoemaker (Baylor) and Yoon Joo Hwang (UCF) to create a series of online master classes that virtually connected students from around the globe with major international professional bassoonists for a series of masterclasses. Hale also currently serves as a co-editor with Amy Pollard (UGA) of the IDRS Online Fingering Chart Project and as a Competition Committee member of the Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition.

As an active advocate for the expansion of the bassoon repertoire, Hale has commissioned several new works for bassoon and voice with his duo partner, mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen. These new works include Ahead of All Parting (2019) by Jenni Brandon, Aurora (2019) by Hannah Rice, White Ash (2019) by Mara Gibson, Washing Water Buffalo in the Ocean (2019) by Gregory Brown, and Millay Songs (2020) by Dana Kaufman. Hale has also been a consortium member on works by Drew Baker, Jenni Brandon, and Nico Muhly. In May 2021, Hale premiered a new concerto for bassoon and orchestra written for him by Mara Gibson entitled Escher Keys.

As a recitalist, Hale has performed at several International Double Reed Society Conferences including those held in Spain and Tokyo, Japan as well as at the Meg Quigley Symposiums in 2019 and 2021 and International Clarinet Association Conferences in 2014 and 2016. As a soloist, Hale has appeared with the ensembles at Louisiana State University performing the Mozart Concerto in Bb Major, K. 191, Weber’s Andante and Hungarian Rondo, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Concerto. In January 2020, Hale appeared with his colleagues in the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra to perform the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with BRSO under the direction of Maestro Timothy Muffitt.

Hale received a bachelor of music degree in bassoon performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder where he studied with Yoshiyuki Ishikawa. He continued his training at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati OH, where he completed his D.M.A. while studying with the late William Winstead. His other teachers include Per Hannevold, Martin James, and Chad Cognata.

Parker performs with many prominent chamber ensembles across the Midwest, including Milwaukee’s Present Music, and Chicago’s Access Contemporary Music, Fourth Coast Ensemble, Crossing Borders Music, and more. Having served as the principal pianist for the Chicago Civic Orchestra under the tutelage of longtime Chicago Symphony Pianist Mary Sauer, Parker has performed under the batons of Riccardo Muti, Jaap Van Zweden, Michael Tilson Thomas, Ludovic Morlot, Carlos Miguel Prieto, and Michael Christy.

Parker’s work is driven by her passion to communicate the vibrancy and variety of classical music, especially to those who have yet to discover it.

Michael Hall

Violist

Michael Hall lives in Chicago and has performed and taught across Europe, Asia, and the United States. Described by the New Music Connoisseur as “utterly masterful,” and Chamber Music Today as having “superb technique,” he recently made his Chicago Orchestra Hall solo debut performing the world premiere of Kim Diehnelt’s Montegar, and concluded a recital tour to Vienna, Austria and Udine and Tolmezzo, Italy. Hall has been a featured performer at the Thailand International Composition Festival in Bangkok, the Positano Chamber Music Festival in Italy, the Vianden International Chamber Music Festival in Luxembourg, and the Composer’s Concordance Series in New York City. In January 2018, Hall gave the world premiere of Stacy Garrop’s Viola Concerto Krakatoa with the Bandung Philharmonic in Indonesia.

Twice he has presented world premieres at International Viola Congresses at Minneapolis and Reykjavik, Iceland. Hall has also performed at the 2014 Primrose International Festival in Los Angeles been a five-time featured performer at the UMKC Summer Composition Workshop, and presented — to critical acclaim — the North American premiere of Chen Yi’s Xian Shi, the first viola concerto written by a Chinese composer, with the Chicago Composers Orchestra, and earlier with the Chiang Mai Philharmonic in Thailand.

Additional performances include solo appearances in Bali, Jakarta, and Singapore, the 2018 New Music Gathering, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, the Bandung Philharmonic in Indonesia, New Music Chicago Series, Constellation appearance with Transient Canvas, Thirsty Ear Festival, and the U.S. premiere of Garrop’s Viola Concerto with the Baroque on Beaver Island Music Festival in Michigan.

Compositions written for Hall include four recently released commercial recordings: Narong Prangcharoen’s Antahkarana, Mara Gibson’s Canopy, and James Mobberley’s Subject To Change Without Notice, which received accolades from Gramophone Magazine, American Record Guide, Fanfare Magazine, the NewMusic Box and I Care If You Listen. Other notable solo premieres have included works by Eric Moe, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Marta Ptaszynska, Adam Greene, Matthew Burtner, Antonio Celso Ribeiro, Rob Deemer, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, Christian Ellenwood, Jean-David Caillouet, David Vayo, Sharon Hartanto, Seth Boustead, Eric Malmquist, and Yu Pengfei. In addition to presenting the Asian premieres of works by Elliott Carter, Zhou Long, Shulamit Ran, and Nico Muhly, Hall has championed the music of Alfred Schnittke, Stephen Paulus, and Kee Yong Chong.

Future premieres of solo works written for Hall include compositions by Evan Williams, Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Tony Manfredonia, Fauzie Wiriadisastra, Sharon Hartanto, Ilya Levinson, and a trio by David Vayo. Commercial recordings can be found on Delos, Centaur, Acoma, Clarion, Vienna Modern Masters, Albany Records, and Navona Recordings. 

Hall has performed on Thailand’s PBS-TV, National Public Radio’s “Live From Studio A” and WFMT’s new music program Relevant Tones. Hall regularly performs with the Chicago Philharmonic, Joffrey Ballet, Ravinia Festival, Baroque on Beaver Island Music Festival, Shoreline Music Society, and the Chicago Composers Orchestras. He has also worked with members of Ensemble Dal Niente, Fonema Consort, Fulcrum Point, Transient Canvas, and newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble.

Additional solo performances include the Philadelphia Salon Series, Frequency Series at Constellation, New Music Gathering, Peabody Conservatory, Berklee School of Music, Bowling Green New Music Festival, Sonict New Music Series, Carriage Barn Series, Bennington College, PianoForte Salon Live Series, Open Ground Series, South Loop Music Festival, 360º Series, CUBE New Music Series, and his third residency at the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory Summer Composition Workshop, where he will be a featured performer. Hall will also be making his sixth appearance at the Thailand International Composition Festival in Bangkok.

An avid chamber musician, Hall was a founding member of the Lake String Quartet, Ensemble-in-Residence at Yellowstone National Park. He has also performed at numerous summer festivals, including the Grand Teton Festival, the National Orchestral Institute, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School, and the Aspen Music Festival, where he was a winner in the Indiana-Aspen Concerto Competition.

Hall strongly believes in the expressive power of collaborating with diverse disciplines in the arts. Collaborations with dancers and visual artists led to guest recitals and lectures at the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City Art Institute, Chicago Renaissance Society, Musical Bridges Program, and the Experimental Sound Studio. Cross-curricular interests naturally led to Hall’s Young Composers Project, funded by the City of Chicago with a Neighborhood Arts Grant. The project combined Howard Gardner’s concepts of Multiple Intelligences with the basic building blocks of music to teach math and creative writing to children grades K-6 in public elementary schools on Chicago’s South Side. Other awards include grants from USArtists International and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Hall also serves as the Co-Artistic Director, as well as the Director of Educational Programs with the newly founded Bandung Philharmonic in Indonesia. Collaborating with composers, teaching institutions, and visual artists, Hall strives to reach children in schools in communities of every size, from large cities to the smallest of villages.

Hall has served on the faculties of VanderCook College of Music, Illinois Wesleyan University, Chicago Academy for the Arts, Guilford College, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and taught adjunct at the University of Chicago. Additionally, Hall serves on the Board of the American Viola Society. Hall received his Doctorate degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, graduated from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a Masters, and received his Bachelor degree from Ball State University. His teachers include Michelle LaCourse, Scott Rawls, Peter Kamnitzer, Linda Geidel, and the LaSalle and Tokyo string quartets.

Hall plays a viola made by Ferruccio Varagnolo. Hall and his wife, Kristine, who is the most inspiring 5th grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools, have two daughters. Hall has logged over 3,000 miles hiking through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and other mountain chains throughout the world, is an avid amateur photographer, loves dark chocolate, and ran the Chicago Marathon.

Notes

In his poem Come up from the Fields, Father, Walt Whitman poignantly captures a tragically common scene occurring during the American Civil War. Alternating between the voices of a narrator and dialogue between a mother and daughter, the poem opens with the daughter excitedly calling to her parents, telling them she has a letter from her brother, who is away fighting in the Civil War. The narrator sets the scene: a breezy, colorful autumn day in rural Ohio, where life is good and the farm is prospering. The mother rushes to read the letter and, scanning it quickly, she immediately notices that it is not written in her son’s handwriting, “yet his name is signed.” As the words swim before her eyes, she reads that he has been wounded but “soon will be better.” The narrator reveals that by the time she reads the letter, her son has already died. Although the daughter initially calls to the father, he is not mentioned again for the rest of the poem. Whitman rather focuses on the sister’s pained disbelief that her brother will not return and on the black grief of his mother, who falls into a state of deep despair, unable to eat or sleep, wishing only that she could join her son in death.

Whitman’s inspiration for this poem came from personal experience. In 1863, he moved to Washington DC to care for his brother, who had been wounded in the war. He remained in the hospital to work as a nurse, and at one point wrote letters for war casualties who were being transported to hospitals.

Several things inspired me to set this poem. Early in 2011, composer-pianist Jonathan Kolm and I decided to perform a recital of our art song settings of poetry by Walt Whitman and Sara Teasdale. I had not yet set any of Whitman’s poetry for solo voice, and this poem immediately came to mind. I was teaching at Hiram College, a small liberal arts college founded in 1850 in rural, hilly northeast Ohio, where autumn is just as Whitman describes it in the opening of this poem, with “billowing clouds in blue skies; red, orange, and gold bursts of color on the trees; and rolling hills dotted by red barns.” A few months earlier, my spouse had been deployed to Afghanistan. The 19th century house I rented was directly across the street from the Frohring Music Building where I taught, and I could see my front porch from the window of my music theory classroom. I wondered what I would do if — while I was teaching — I saw two soldiers approaching my front door, as is military protocol when a soldier is fatally wounded during active duty. I realized that scenes like this happen daily during wars, wherever in the world wars are fought. Thus, Whitman’s poem not only captures one Civil War family’s tragic story, but is a timeless reminder of the devastating effects of war on families everywhere.

— Dawn Sonntag

I selected and grouped these poems together for a High School English class project. When the time came early in my undergraduate studies to set some texts for a song project, I was immediately reminded of these and how well they worked together as a single work. They collectively express a constant, sometimes-invisible struggle against forces that can seem irresistible, but can be fought through transgenerational resilience, much like water wearing down stone, and the unfathomable strength of the ocean often hidden by its deceptively smooth surface stretching out to the horizon.

The first song, Sea Calm, is as still as its name and text might imply. Long notes give way to smooth tonal shifts and short, clipped syllables when the text implies otherwise. Moonlight Night: Carmel immediately shifts to a steady, almost march-like cadence. Dissonant intervals cut through and eventually stall this forward momentum, beating it back to a familiar — but more halting — stillness again. Literal vocal waves glide to the open Island, which interrupts its almost oppressive melancholy with hints of optimism, before sinking to an essential and stoic stillness.

I would like to thank the American Bioethics and Culture Institute (ABCI) for providing funding for the rights to the poems from the Langston Hughes estate and recording costs as part of their Resilience Empowerment Art Project (REAP).

Visit https://www.americanbioethics.org/projects/reap/ for more information.

— Jason Huffman

By the late spring of 2020, COVID-19 had arbitrarily and unexpectedly taken the lives of thousands of people in the world. New York City alone had to set up refrigerated trucks – “mobile morgues” – just to store dead bodies. Death and mortality had a larger presence in my daily life than it ever had before. So, I was inspired to write a song reflecting my feelings about our collective grief and the fragility of life. I chose Because I could not stop for Death, a poem by Emily Dickinson, as the text. In the poem, Death unexpectedly picks up the speaker in his carriage and drives her toward eternity. They pass scenes from her life on the way. They pass school children playing, as well as her home, which, like her life itself, is sinking into the ground. Wheat plants stare at them impassively as they pass. At the end of the song, we learn that the speaker has actually been dead for centuries. The song ends without harmonic resolution.

— Andrew Lewinter

Washing Water Buffalo in the Ocean is a translation of a poem by the Chinese poet Wang Xiaoni. The translation is drawn from the Griffin Award winning set of translations — Something Crosses my Mind — by Eleanor Goodman. The poems in this set tend to ruminate on the natural world and the liminal spaces between humans, human endeavor, and phenomena of the world around us. These interactions are at times playful, spiritual, and pointed. In Washing Water Buffalo in the Ocean, we see a herd of oxen negotiating a stretch of beach, unsure of — and ultimately consumed by — the power of the ocean through the hubris of their drover. The bassoon at times plays the role of both ocean and oxen, evoking the churning sea and the bellowing animals. This short scene calls on the listener to consider the various roles of man and animal when confronted with something extremely powerful.

— Gregory W. Brown

This song uses both the English anonymous original, a second verse by David Dunning, and my translation of both verses into French:
The centipede was quite happy walking with its many legs until a frog asked it to think about which leg comes after which… it had to lie down — distracted — and consider how to run. In other words, if you do something that comes naturally, it might go wrong if you concentrate on it instead of just simply doing it.

— David Warin Solomons

Landscapes (A. Survey, B. Promenade, A1. Reprise) was commissioned by Marianne Parker for Chicago’s Ear Taxi Festival. Written for voice, viola, and piano, the composer’s Fibonacci poem serves as lyrics. Regina Harris Baiocchi deconstructed a redacted essay by landscape architect Frederick Olmstead to create the “found” poem for this art song.

The outer sections (A, A1) use genteel music to encase a mysterious Promenade. Landscapes was written for and premiered by the 3M Trio: Megan Ihnen, mezzo, Michael Hall, viola, and Marianne Parker, piano.

Mine to Keep was composed in the Fall 2003 when I was a junior at Manhattan College in Purchase NY and was beginning my studies of music composition with Dr. Mary Ann Joyce-Walter. It was written for and performed by my classmate, Nina Corvino, and based on a text by Hellen Keller whose faith and optimism I have always admired.

— Jennifer Castellano

In 2018, my father passed away. At that time, I sang in the choir at a large synagogue in New York City. Jewish by birth but agnostic in practice, I never really listened to the readings during those services but that spring, the synagogue instated a new prayer book. One evening, I sat in the pews and this text: “Tis a fearful thing to love what death has touched,” caught my attention. For the first time, I really listened to the poetry spoken by the rabbi, and it brought me great comfort. When I got home, I googled what I could remember of the text, thinking it was a modern poem. To my surprise, it had been written nearly a millennium ago. I was awestruck by how this feeling of grief, of losing a loved one, could surpass centuries, countries, and cultures. I decided to memorize the poem and whenever I felt overcome by grief, I would recite it to myself. Its words continued to bring me great, great comfort. Eventually, the words formed a melody, and I wrote it down. I am happy to share this poem, and its melody, and hope that it can provide the same comfort to others as it gave to me in one of the darkest times of my life.

— Danya Katok

Symmetries of Consciousness was commissioned by Richard Hyman in 2018 as a birthday gift for his wife, Roberta. Thinking a work with text would best suit the occasion, he suggested a setting of the poem Connubial by Heather McHugh. I found the text fascinating, and was captivated by the challenge of setting it to music. I quickly came to the realization that — at least according to my own aesthetic preferences — this setting would not feel complete without a companion piece. After some discussion with the author, I chose to add her poem On the Fourth Day, allowing me to incorporate a dramatically different style while adhering to a similar pitch language.

— Charles Corey

Sally Keith was so kind to lend me her collection of poems — titled River House — before they were published. As I read through the poems just in a word file, not yet put in their final form, I was confronted with a house empty of loved ones, but filled with memories and reminders of the past. I found a certain tension throughout these poems, a pull between the speaker’s desire to move on from that space as they did years before, and yet linger in the small moments that their brain struggles to retain. I was so lucky that Sally gave me complete freedom in setting these poems, and that the house that they describe was such an interesting place to set up residence for a short time. What emerged was a song cycle — River House — sharing the same name as the collection of poems. “How Do You Picture The Shape of a Year” is the first movement of this cycle. The poem describes the house of the speaker’s parents and grandparents as the reader seamlessly travels between the present empty house and a house filled with memories of the past. To read Sally’s full poem and the rest of the collection, please visit https://milkweed.org/book/river-house

— Jesse Guessford

Texts

Sea Calm
How still,
How strangely still
The water is today,
It is not good
For water
To be so still that way.

Moonlight Night: Carmel
Tonight the waves march
In long ranks
Cutting the darkness
With their silver shanks,
Cutting the darkness
And kissing the moon
And beating the land’s
Edge into a swoon.

Island
Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now:
I see the island
Still ahead somehow.
I see the island
And its sands are fair:
Wave of sorrow,
Take me there.

Poems Copyright 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes, by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
At wrestling in a ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity

The herd was driven into the ocean, and into the churning white froth.

The filthy oxen dyed the ocean’s holy edge yellow
as though a monk had come by, dropping a few rotting meditation cushions.

Something mighty suddenly stood up
the ocean was rising.
The oxen were afraid
they’re the really honest ones.
The water threatened in its loudest voice
wanting to drive away these four-footed monsters.

The oxherd leaned down, washing his wiry legs.
Then the oxherd said to the sea, what are you yelling about
how can this little bit of mud pollute you
you’re enormous!

An ox opened his anxious limpid eyes
it saw the blue field, even bigger than a yellow field
they bellowed in the ocean’s rhythm
afraid the oxherd wanted to plough the huge stretch of bitter water.

Like a few unclothed and bashful gentlemen
the oxen strolled along the shore.
But the Pacific overran them
totally furious.

Text appears by gracious permission of the translator.
This poem is taken from the Griffin Poetry Award winning collection Something Crosses my Mind.

This song uses both the English anonymous original, a second verse by David Dunning and my translation of both verses into French: The centipede was quite happy walking with its many legs until a frog asked it to think about which leg comes after which… it had to lie down distracted and consider how to run… (In other words, if you do something that comes naturally, it might go wrong if you concentrate on it instead of just simply doing it).

Verse 1 (anon.)

A Centipede was happy quite

Until a frog in fun

said “Pray tell which leg comes after which?”

(with a left right right left right)

This raised her mind to such a pitch

she lay distracted in a ditch

Considering how to run.

Verse 2

She stopped and thought and, mystified,

Soloquized on this;

Put right foot first and found it left

Her left leg wrong right side

This raised her mind to such a pitch

she lay distracted in a ditch

Considering how to run.

French version :

Un mille-pattes était bien content

Mais la grenouille l’interroge

«Comment sais-tu quelle patte va a-vant

C’est la gauche ou droite ou quoi?»

ça lui fait penser, mais beaucoup trop

l’immobilise tout en chaos

il ne peut plus marcher droit.

Il commence un pas, s’arrête encore,

Des pattes gauches se lèvent

Il bouge ses droites en octuors

Et trébuche comme dans un rêve

oui ça fait penser, et beaucoup trop

l’immobilise tout en chaos

il ne peut plus marcher droit.

landscapes
from
opposite shores
and aerial views
visitors appear as liquid art.
Mystery, lit by lamps reflecting from the water,
mingles with light, playing through shade. character becomes poetry, and purpose is unity. [grandeur and skill alternate and come together to display bright flecks with glimmers of color breaking thru pansies, gladiolus, and sunflowers.] Along the promenade, lush, deep greens obscure all things aimed at breaking attention from walkways and entries that stir our blood with possibilities and music. **Our watchword is order and our beacon is beauty.

Promenade (B-section musings): Strutting down the lane… Cobblestone tulips… Hands holding hands… Gardenias for a temple… Breezes raising hemlines… Sky keeping watch… Shadows in the gloaming… Fountains wishing for coins.

Text by Helen Keller

They took away what should have been my eyes
(but I remembered Milton’s Paradise).

They took away what should have been my ears,
(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears)

They took away what should have been my tongue,
(but I had talked with god when I was young)

He would not let them take away my soul,
possessing that I still possess the whole.

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
to love.
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.”

― Yehuda HaLevi (c. 1075-1141)

Connubial

Dream’s matterless, it dips
from bounds to billowings;

laws lapse in it,
and universes swerve.

Before I had
an other at my side

there was no side. (How far
can onesome go?) Just being

here at hand, just being, beating
in and out of phase, you are

my bounds and bearings: touch
is couch, about aflow.

*
(Blind comfort, maybe, keeping
terrifying lights away … But one is one’s
own zero, hole through which the all
can plunge appallingly. I’m not
cut out for it—not yet—
by mind and hand I’m given to

symmetrical identities, or
solitudes of two.) And if I’ve settled
for a circumstance (landings broken
by water, star falls by blue)—

so be it. Loving’s limited;
its singularity is all reprise.
You save me from, not for, eternities.

by Heather McHugh, © 1994, published by Wesleyan University Press
On the Fourth Day

For Richard Hladky

Suddenly everything
Stayed the same.

We who had called
The water blue

Refocused on our lens.
We who had seen the island move

Reunderstood our oars. The sand
Composed some drumlins in the sound

While we revised the sky. And whether we felt fog or not,
The sun still burned alive. Arose, along the tidelines,

Ever un-updated news. (Some news was not
Of men. ) A day and a night were number five

And suddenly nothing changed again.

by Heather McHugh, © 2018, published by Johns Hopkins University Press

Scores

Sea Calm, Moonlight Night, Island

Jason Huffman

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Because I could not stop for Death

Andrew Lewinter

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‘Tis a Fearful Thing

Danya Katok

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