Born

The Crossing | Donald Nally conductor
Edie Hill composer
Michael Gilbertson composer

Release Date: August 12, 2022
Catalog #: NV6449
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century
Vocal Music
Choir

Contemporary music needn’t sacrifice order and aesthetic appeal, even when it deals with complex issues. A glowing example of this is BORN: THE MUSIC OF EDIE HILL AND MICHAEL GILBERTSON, with conductor Donald Nally leading GRAMMY-winning professional chamber choir The Crossing on a breathtakingly beautiful expedition into themes of extinctions, relationships and their complexities, loss, and love.

Throughout this splendid amalgamation of Hill’s and Gilbertson’s ethereal, energetic, raw, and impactful compositions, the nuance of Nally’s conducting, and The Crossing’s superb expressiveness are ever-present. Singing that is transcendent and authentic.

Listen

Hear the full album on YouTube

Stream/Buy

Choose your platform

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Born Michael Gilbertson The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 9:45
02 Spectral Spirits: I. Prelude: These Birds Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Maren Montalbano, soloist 2:22
03 Spectral Spirits: II. Eyewitness: Henry David Thoreau and the Passenger Pigeon Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; James Reese, soloist 1:40
04 Spectral Spirits: III. The Naming: Passenger Pigeon Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Maren Montalbano, soloist 0:15
05 Spectral Spirits: IV. Passenger Pigeon Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 6:41
06 Spectral Spirits: V. Eyewitness: Gert Goebel and the Paroquets Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Dominic German, soloist 1:43
07 Spectral Spirits: VI. The Naming: Carolina Parakeet Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Maren Montalbano, soloist 0:17
08 Spectral Spirits: VII. Carolina Parakeet Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 3:27
09 Spectral Spirits: VIII. Eyewitness: Lucinen M. Turner and the Migration of the Curlews Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Rebecca Myers, soloist 3:50
10 Spectral Spirits: IX. The Naming: Eskimo Curlew Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Maren Montalbano, soloist 0:20
11 Spectral Spirits: X. Eskimo Curlew Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 3:55
12 Spectral Spirits: XI. Eyewitness: Mr. Wilson and the Ivory-bill Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Dominic German, soloist 2:07
13 Spectral Spirits: XII. The Naming: Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor; Maren Montalbano, soloist 0:19
14 Spectral Spirits: XIII. Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Edie Hill The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 5:11
15 Returning: Part 1: What knits us Michael Gilbertson The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 9:32
16 Returning: Part 2: I thought of staying quiet Michael Gilbertson The Crossing | Donald Nally, conductor 9:23

THE CROSSING
Katy Avery • Nathaniel Barnett • Karen Blanchard • Steven Bradshaw • Colin Dill • Micah Dingler • Joanna Gates • Dimitri German • Dominic German • Steven Hyder • Michael Jones • Lauren Kelly • Anika Kildegaard • Heidi Kurtz • Chelsea Lyons • Maren Montalbano • Rebecca Myers • James Reese • Daniel Schwartz • Rebecca Siler • Tiana Sorenson • Daniel Spratlan • Elisa Sutherland • Daniel Taylor

Donald Nally Conductor
Kevin Vondrak Assistant Conductor
John Grecia and Mark Livshits Keyboards

Born: music of Edie Hill and Michael Gilbertson was recorded
August 21-24, 2021 at St. Peter’s Church in the Great Valley,
Malvern PA

Recording Producers Paul Vazquez, Donald Nally, and Kevin Vondrak

Recording Engineer Paul Vazquez
Assistant Recording Engineers Dante Portella and Henry Koch
Editing, Mixing, and Mastering Paul Vazquez
Production Assistants Antonio Ruiz-Nokes and Ben Perri

The recording of Born: music of Edie Hill and Michael Gilbertson is made possible through the generous support of Carol Westfall, longtime friend and benefactor of The Crossing.

Artwork by Christopher St. John (2019) – “Bird with the Sound of a Warmer Climate,” “Songs for Passenger Pigeons.”

Publicity Morahan Arts and Media

THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE CROSSING
Kelly Ann Bixby
Timothy V. Blair
Phil Cooke, vice president
Shawn Felton
Mary D. Hangley
Lisa Husseini
Cynthia A. Jarvis
Anika Kildegaard
Mary Kinder Loiselle
Michael M. Meloy
Donald Nally
Eric Owens
Pam Prior, treasurer
Andrew Quint
James Reese
Kim Shiley, president
Carol Loeb Shloss, secretary
John Slattery
Elizabeth Van de Water

THE STAFF OF THE CROSSING
Jonathan Bradley, executive director
Stephanie Lantz-Goldstein, development manager
Shannon McMahon, operations manager
Kevin Vondrak, assistant conductor & artistic associate
Paul Vazquez, sound designer
Katie Feeney, grant manager
Elizabeth Dugan, bookkeeper
Ryan Strand, administrative assistant

The Crossing is represented by Alliance Artist Management

COME. HEAR. NOW.
#ComeHearNow
www.crossingchoir.org

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland

Artist Information

The Crossing

Choir

The Crossing is a GRAMMY-winning professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. It is committed to working with creative teams to make and record new, substantial works for choir that explore and expand ways of writing for choir, singing in choir, and listening to music for choir. Many of its nearly 140 commissioned premieres address social, environmental, and political issues.

Learn More
Donald Nally

Donald Nally

Conductor

Donald Nally conducts The Crossing, the internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY-award-winning professional choir that commissions, premieres, and records only new music. He holds the John W. Beattie Chair of Music at Northwestern University where he is professor and director of choral organizations. Nally has served as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Nally has commissioned over 160 works.

Learn More

Edie Hill

Composer

For Edie Hill, writing music is an opportunity to research, learn, muse, reach down deep, and allow inspiration to come from the stuff of life. Her compositions are fueled by her experiences, passions, and curiosities.

Learn More

Michael Gilbertson

Composer

The works of Michael Gilbertson have been described as “elegant” and “particularly beautiful” by The New York Times, “vivid, tightly woven” and “delectably subtle” by the Baltimore Sun, “genuinely moving” by the Washington Post, and “a compelling fusion of new and ancient” by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Gilbertson is the BMI Composer in Residence with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and is a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Quartet.

Learn More

Notes & Texts

music by Michael Gilbertson
words by Wisława Szymborska

Commissioned for The Crossing by Steven Hyder and Donald Nally in memory of Margaret Martindale Nally (July 14, 1926 – December 31, 2016)

So this is his mother.
This small woman.
The gray-eyed procreator.

The boat in which, years ago,
he sailed to shore.

The boat from which he stepped
into the world,
into un-eternity.

Genetrix of the man
with whom I leap through fire.

So this is she, the only one
who didn’t take him
finished and complete.

She herself pulled him
into the skin I know,
bound him to the bones
that are hidden from me.

She herself raised
the gray eyes
that he raised to me.

So this is she, his Alpha.
Why has he shown her to me.

Born.
So he was born, too.
Born like everyone else.
Like me, who will die.

The son of an actual woman.
A new arrival from the body’s depths.
A voyager to Omega

Subject to
his own absence,
on every front,
at any moment.

He hits his head
against a wall
that won’t give way forever.

His movements
dodge and parry
the universal verdict.

I realized
that his journey was already halfway over.

But he didn’t tell me that,
no.

“This is my mother.”
was all he said.

— from No End of Fun (1967) Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012), trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

music by Edie Hill
words by Holly J. Hughes, Henry David Thoreau, Gert Goebel, Christopher Cokinos, Lucien M. Turner, Paul A. Johnsgard, and Alexander Wilson

Spectral Spirits was commissioned by The Crossing and Donald Nally with generous support provided by John Hawthorn and Danielle Macbeth.

When Donald Nally asked “are there any texts you’ve been dying to set?” I immediately thought of Passings by Holly J. Hughes. Passings was out on a display table at a favorite local bookstore. I picked it up because there was a feather on the cover – and because of the title. I had a feeling I knew what the subject matter would be. When I read, I was drawn in by Holly’s masterful poetry. Each of the 15 poems in her book lovingly tell the story of birds who are highly endangered, extinct, or believed to be gone. This book sat on a table in my living room for a couple of years. I thought maybe, someday, the opportunity would come for me to set some of these gems, and it did in the form of a commission for The Crossing.

Donald said “I like long pieces” and so, I chose four of Holly’s poems to set: “Passenger Pigeon,” “Carolina Parakeet,” “Eskimo Curlew,” and “Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.” Each of these birds lived in or migrated through or to North America. In addition to her poems, I found treasures in the Forward of Passings (“Take note. These birds are still singing to us. We must listen.”) and in the books she references; such as Hope is the Thing With Feathers by Christopher Cokinos.

Having the space of 30 minutes was a luxury. I had room to play with form and to fashion a piece using Holly’s poems as the “pillars” of four musical sequences, creating a ceremony honoring each of the four birds individually. The piece begins with a brief prelude: setting Holly’s words from her Forward. Then, each sequence begins with an eyewitness account of what it was like to experience these birds firsthand, followed by what I call “The Naming,” which states the formal Latin name as well as various “nicknames” given to each bird. “The Naming” is then followed by Holly’s pillar poem.

For about a year, I was immersed in these poems and books by naturalists and ornithologists. I reread Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and articles about our ailing earth. Composing this piece was an emotional sequence of falling in love with a bird followed by grieving its loss.

Composing Spectral Spirits was as much a study of humans as it was of birds. I found myself asking how human beings managed to obliterate these species. In some cases, populations were brought back from the brink of extinction only to be brought down again. A false sense of security, perhaps. Human beings take things for granted and forget. Why, if we see something alive, vibrant, with striking color, do we want to possess it to the point of oblivion? Why is it permissible to destroy nature in the name of “progress” or financial gain? In the end: we all lose.I grieve every day for the state of our planet and her creatures. Composing Spectral Spirits was a gift that gave me a chance to funnel this grief. It allowed me to celebrate the creatures we’ve lost. And, it was an impetus to look out for the ones that still appear in the treetops.

– Edie Hill

Take note. These birds are still singing to us. We must listen.

– Holly J. Hughes

Eyewitness: Henry David Thoreau and the Passenger Pigeon (tenor solo with choir)

“Blue…dry slate…blue, like weather stained wood…a more subdued and earthy blue than sky…a fit color for this airiel traveller as its path is between sky and earth.”

– Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American author and naturalist, adapted by the composer from Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Christopher Cokinos (b. 1963)

 

The Naming (alto solo)

Echtopistes migratorius. Wandering wanderer.

 

Passenger Pigeon

from the painting by James J. Audubon, 1824. On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.

See how she bends to him, her beak held within his
while she waits for his food to rise up to her hunger.

He rests on the arcing branch, his neck a perfect answer to hers,
wings held aloft and slightly splayed while long tail feathers stream

away, Prussian blue going to dusk, breast russet, branch below
studded with viridian lichen to match his coat, colors chosen

by Audubon as he painted them in courtship in situ.
See how her colors foreshadow the fall—dun, mustard, black—

how her tail balances his wings painted in parallel planes,
how the drooping oak leaf holds them in place, stasis

in which they are aware of no one but each other.
Audubon captured then in gouache, graphite, and pastels,

not knowing they would soon be gone; in his time
they were more numerous than all other species combined.

They say the pigeons flew over the banks of the Ohio River
for three days in succession, sounding like a hard gale at sea.

Years later, guns spattered shot into skies stormy with pigeons.
Thousands plummeted, filling railroad cars bound for fine restaurants.

Now, of those hundreds of millions that once darkened
the skies, we are left with Martha, who never lived in the wild,

stuffed in the Smithsonian, Prussian-blue feathers stiff,
glass eyes staring, waiting, still, for her mate.

–Holly J. Hughes

Eyewitness: Gert Goebel and the Paroquets (bass solo)

“In winter…flocks of paroquets were a real ornament to the trees stripped of their foliage…a flock of several hundred…settled on a big sycamore…the bright green color of the birds…the many yellow heads looked like many candles.

[In Germany] a young birch…was set in a pail of water. In the warm room it produced delicate leaves…and on Christmas Eve, was decorated with gilded and silvered nuts, apples and candies, not unlike these bird-covered tree tops, these enormous Christmas trees of the forest.”

– Gert Goebel (1816-1896), German settler in eastern Missouri, from a translation of his 1877 autobiography, adapted by the composer from Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Christopher Cokinos

 

The Naming (alto solo)

Puzzi la neé. Head of yellow. Conuropsis carolinensis.

Carolina Parakeet

Incas, the last Carolina parakeet, died in his cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on Feb. 21, 1918, only six months after the death of Lady Jane, his companion of thirty-two years.

From Mexico to New York they flew, tail feathers streaming,
startling in the monochrome of winter’s eastern shore.

When their forests were cut, they swooped to the farmlands
in waves of color—yellow, green, orange—lit in fruit trees,

found the soft squish of peaches, cherries, figs. Descending
three hundred at a time, in crayon-box flocks, they were shot

by farmers defending their crops—who could fault them?
Shot for their tail feathers, all the rage on ladies’ hats,

shot because they would not desert each other, each staying
by its wounded mate until hunters picked them off,

one by each last, bright, exotic, faithful one.

– Holly J. Hughes

Eyewitness: Lucinen M. Turner and the Migration of the Curlews (soprano solo with choir)

“The calls of a distant flock…sound like the wind whistling through a shipʹs rigging or the jingling of countless sleigh bells.”

– an observer

“A most graceful undulation…like a cloud of smoke wafted by the lightest zephyr.
The whirl and rise…(Their) aerial evolutions (are) one of the most wonderful in the flight of birds.”

– Lucien M. Turner (1848-1909), American ethnologist and naturalist, adapted by the composer from “Where Have All the Curlews Gone?” by Paul A. Johnsgard (b. 1931)

 

The Naming (alto solo)

Numenius borealis. Sweetgrass. Swiftwing. Little Sicklebill.

 

Eskimo Curlew

I grew up reading The Last of the Curlews before bed,
your crescent-moon beak beckoning me north.

Even then you were almost gone, though millions of you
once filled the skies, migrating from the northern tundra

to South America, feeding on grasshoppers along the way.
Within twenty years, your vast flocks were brought down

by market hunters, fire suppression, tilling of the prairies,
eradication of grasshoppers. Before hunting was banned,

two million curlews were killed each year.
Here’s the part that still makes me weep:

You were wiped out because you stayed
by your fallen companion; from you

I learned what loyalty means. Today, birders
search for you along Galveston’s shore,

sometimes catch a glimpse, memory being so strong.
No one knows for sure you’re gone. You live on

in the pages of a book, a waning crescent moon.

–Holly J. Hughes

Eyewitness: Mr. Wilson and the Ivory-Bill (baritone solo)

“The first place I observed this bird…was twelve miles north of Wilmington…North Carolina. There I found the bird from which my drawing was taken.

While engaged in taking the drawing, he cut me severely in several places…on the whole, displayed such a noble and unconquerable spirit, that I was frequently tempted to restore him to his native woods. He lived with me nearly three days, but refused all sustenance, and I witnessed his death with regret.”

– Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) Scottish-American poet and ornithologist, 1811, adapted by the composer from Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Christopher Cokinos

 

The Naming (alto solo)

Campephilus principalis. Principal lover of grubs. Splendid recluse of the swamp.

 

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

I wish I’d been at the sighting that inspired its nickname,
the Lord God bird. I’d love to see this woodpecker,

perhaps extinct, perhaps not; no one knows for sure.
Standing twenty inches tall with white wing patches

and a flashy red crest, who wouldn’t say Lord God,
look at that? Once it made its home in the hardwood

forests of the south; birders say its ivory bill could pierce
bark eight inches deep. Imagine the racket. Even so,

they were vulnerable: a single pair needed six square miles
of wet forest with dead trees in which to search for grubs.

In 1948, when a Louisiana forest was cleared for a soy plantation,
the last population vanished. The Cuban subspecies survived

a few more decades, but by 1970, logging had reduced its population
to eight pairs. In the 1990s, explorers in the mountains near Moa

found fresh signs of feeding, caught a glimpse of a bird that may
have been the ivory bill, but that sighting was never confirmed.

Since then, more reports have surfaced, suggesting
the Lord God bird may not be gone. A few still hide,

spectral spirits, reminding us of the shimmering line
linking memory and desire, reminding us that perhaps

it’s not too late to save them, to save us all.

– Holly J. Hughes

music by Michael Gilbertson 
words by Kai Hoffman-Krull 

a note from the poet:
Returning explores the story of David and Jonathan from the Hebrew Bible in the form of an unspoken conversation between them. Jonathan’s words to David are spoken internally as he prepares to fight the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa. David’s words are spoken to Jonathan’s memory after his passing at the battle. A third, omniscient voice reflects on the nature of love.

Part I.

What knits us
to the soul of another
the way dusk light becomes
a part of dankness returning

What connects us to a life
more than our own

What makes us choose

Night pours into sky
like the first rains
in a riverbed
colors of stone
made true by water

(David)

Your voice speaks now
as it spoke before
though what I hear more
the space between words
your breath preparing for sound

(Jonathan)

I think of what I forget
the slipping image of your hand
the rivers in your fingers formed
by the waters of use
currents carrying me towards you

Night pours into sky
like the first rains
in a riverbed
colors of stone
made true by water

If I speak to you now
could you hear
for the air around me
is like your nearness

You were always the wilderness
taste of the unknown berry
colors etched in my lips
foliage lush without water

What makes us choose

How many kinds of light
live in a night sky

Is light ever separate
from the time
it travels through

What connects to a life
more than our own

Part II.

I thought of staying quiet
the night of the full moon

Air that night
like the colors of stone
made true by water

Before I spoke that night
I knew my father
would curse

If I had not asked you to speak
a lie

Why are there words
I cannot speak to your face
but only to your memory

would you still be alive

I thought of staying quiet
the night of the full moon

or a part of the silence
we come to know

For a moment
my silence
became my reign

Are you dead
because of my life

For a moment
my quiet
spoke king

Would you have ruled
better than I

For a moment
I let you die

What knits us
to the soul of another
the way dusk light becomes
a part of darkness returning

Tonight I look at the sky
and cannot find
the space between light and dark

Tonight I look at the sky
the space between light and dark
how the edge of one
becomes the edges of the other

We are grateful for: 
our artists, composers, audience, friends, and supporters; 
Edie Hill and Michael Gilbertson;
the staff and congregation at our home, The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill; 
those who opened their homes to our artists during the recording of Born: music of Edie Hill and Michael Gilbertson: David and Rebecca Thornburgh, Becky Siler, Katy Avery and Thann Scoggin, Taylor and Frank Slaughter Rebecca Siler, Corbin Abernathy and Andrew Beck, Daniel Schwartz and Mike Rowley.