Dan Perkins founded the New Hampshire Master Chorale in the spring of 2003, and invited me to join the group as composer in residence soon after. Since then, the NHMC has premiered 18 works that I’ve written specifically for them. All the works featured in this collection resulted from collaborations with Dan and ensembles that he conducts—the NHMC, the Manchester Choral Society, and the choral ensembles at Plymouth State University, where we both teach. They all arose from deep engagement among us, the ensembles, and the communities those ensembles serve—engagement devoted, in Dan’s words, to “creating our own culture in the woods of New Hampshire.”
- Jonathan Santore
Walden Recessional was composed for the Fall 2004 NHMC concerts in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Thoreau’s Walden, which consisted entirely of works setting text by Thoreau (and which would have one performance on the banks of Walden Pond itself). Dan Perkins asked me to set text that would serve as a fitting finale for the entire concert. With those requests in mind, I chose to set text from the “Conclusion” of Walden for chorus and cello.
The Return (Armistice Poems)
The Fall 2005 NHMC concerts took as their theme “Honoring the End of War.” As I started to work on a piece for these concerts, I found myself thinking about World War I—the “Great War,” the “War to End All Wars”—the heroic deeds, great hopes, and ultimate tragedy of a conflict that is rapidly fading from living memory, and the parlor songs and marches that formed the musical background of that conflict. Two of the three texts I set deal specifically with WWI and the Armistice—from an English soldier in the trenches and an American woman receiving news of war’s end, far from the battlefields of Europe. The third text, contained in a larger work by Robert Louis Stevenson that predates the Armistice by some forty years, seemed apt for a piece about the conclusion and aftermath of war, particularly as seen through the quickly dimming lens of remembrance.
Dan Perkins planned the Spring 2006 NHMC concert around music of Finland, where he’d held a Fulbright during his doctoral work at the University of Southern California. As part of the music for the concert, he asked me to set an English translation of the Prologue to the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, as a companion to Veljo Tormis’ setting of the original Finnish. I turned to J.M. Crawford’s 1888 translation as my source text. Crawford’s translation uses the same hypnotic verse rhythm as the Finnish original, and left me free to pick and choose lines from the Prologue at will (used in the order in which they originally appear, however) to weave a seamless text for setting. Hence the title: Kalevala Fragments.
Kalevala Fragments is published by and copyright ©2010 Yelton Rhodes Music (BMI), Los Angeles. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Eight Gypsy Songs After Brahms
Since the Spring 2009 NHMC concert featured Brahms’s Zigeunerlieder, op. 103, I decided to write a piece setting my own free English translations of some of the texts from this work. Once I selected the texts (from songs 1, 5, 10, 7, 8, 4, and 2 in the original work), they began to form a coherent story in my mind—a story of passionate love, deep sorrow, and tragic misunderstanding. It seems to me also an apt metaphor for the experience of the Roma people throughout history.
For the Fall 2010 NHMC concert, focused on France, I began thinking about a work for chorus and soprano saxophone (an instrument, after all, born in France) featuring a translated French text. Several sources pointed me to Victor Hugo’s powerful poem “Aimons toujours! Aimons encore!” I fell in love with the text, and ultimately made my own free translation of it for the piece, entitled Love Always! after the first words of Hugo’s text.
O Sweet Spontaneous Earth
When Dan Perkins told me that the theme of the Fall 2011 NHMC concerts would be sustainability and our relationship with the Earth, I immediately thought of the favorite poet of my youth, E.E. Cummings. I always loved his forthrightness, his passion, his love of the world around him. I returned to his work looking for optimism and joy about the environment and our role in it; to my surprise, I found passionate denunciations of humanity's consumer-driven relationship with nature, denunciations that precede Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the entire environmental movement as we know it. In response, I wrote some of my darkest work, work that only lightens at the end as Cummings discusses our ultimate reconciliation with our environment.
“O sweet spontaneous”. Copyright 1923, 1951, ©1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright ©1976 by George James Firmage, “pity this busy monster, manunkind,”. Copyright 1944, ©1972, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust, “when god lets my body be”. Copyright 1923, 1951, ©1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright ©1976 by George James Firmage, from COMPLETE POEMS: 1904–1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Requiem: Learning to Fall
Requiem: Learning to Fall was commissioned by the Yeoman’s Fund for the Arts in Sandwich, NH, in honor of one of the fund’s co-founders, the writer and critic Philip Simmons. Phil and his family relocated to Sandwich, Phil’s boyhood summer home, in 1999, after Phil was diagnosed with ALS. The people of Sandwich formed a “circle of care” around them, providing daily assistance until Phil’s death. It was in the midst of this “circle of care” that Phil produced his masterwork, Learning to Fall: the Blessings of an Imperfect Life, which fellow author Scott Turow described as “A wonderful meditation on fallibility in a world of grace.”
His musical collaborator Peggy Johnson produced 12 vibrant poetic distillations of the 12 chapters in Phil’s book, and these served as the text for the Requiem. When Dan Perkins learned about the project, he offered to bring the work to the Manchester Choral Society, which was in the midst of a multi-year cycle of performing large works for chorus and orchestra, and MCS agreed to premiere the new work in Spring 2016. While this work shares some features with the traditional Requiem Mass, the text it’s based on is not about death—it’s about living right now, in this present moment. I think this was an issue that Phil considered throughout his life, and returned to during his final illness with deep forcefulness and clarity.
“Requiem Poem,” by Peggy Johnson is based upon Learning to Fall by Philip Simmons, Copyright ©2000 by Philip Simmons, and used with the permission of the Estate of Philip Simmons.
The poem “Forgetting” was written by Jane Babin (1956–2015), beloved friend and colleague. Her first career was as an attorney and professor in what is now the College of Business Administration at Plymouth State University. In 2004, Jane was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), and shortly thereafter retired from the PSU faculty. After her “retirement,” she devoted herself full-time to writing about life with ALS, patients’ rights, and doctor-patient communication, and speaking to medical school seminars and church congregations about these issues. In 2006, Jane was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by PSU for her work in these areas.
I first got to know Jane because our sons were in preschool together. We spent a lot of time together over several summers, talking about all the things parents talk about while they watch their kids play. Forgetting is dedicated “To Christian’s Mom, from Peter’s Dad.”
Dan Perkins and the Plymouth State University Chamber Singers premiered my original setting of “Forgetting,” for chorus and piano, in 2008. Dan thought that an orchestral version of the piece would be a fitting companion piece for the premiere of Requiem: Learning to Fall. This new version was premiered by the Manchester Choral Society in Spring 2016.
“Forgetting,” from Pearls in the Pond, copyright ©2007 by Jane E. Babin. Used by permission of the author.
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