She Speaks is a choral song cycle composed by Alice Dryden and Amy Gordon, which sets the text by Sharon Goldstein. It weaves together the experiences and voices of different women, both artistically and literally. The text and the music were a result of a close collaboration among the composers and the poet. The cycle is a progression through generations of strong women. Each woman throughout history has been able to build on the strength and courage of her ancestors.

Movement 1, She Is Silent, represents a past generation that endured hardship and suppression for the sake of the next generation. The thread from the woman’s sewing machine becomes the motivic thread that weaves throughout the other movements, anchoring future generations in her quiet resolve.

In Movement 2, She Dreams, the next generation spends her days trapped, speaking other people’s words and ideas. Yet inside her, she holds dreams of her own stories and her own identity, and being recognized for her own worth.

Movement 3, She Speaks, explores vocal percussion and extended vocal techniques. The women gradually find their voices and speak out, with difficulty and first but with increasing confidence- This. Is. Wrong! This movement honors those who would no longer stay silent in the face of injustice.

Movement 4, She Rages!, is the most specific and direct response to current events. The voices of women, silenced for too long, break free- and they are furious! Each voice demands to be heard as they build on one another. The movement transitions into a triumphant march honoring the women that came before them, referencing each of the previous movements in both text and music.

The ending, co-written by both composers, ties off the thread that wove through each movement. All the voices, men and women, speak together to convey one unified message: It is more important now than ever to find the courage to listen and to speak out.

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Mars in Retrograde, commissioned by Kat Anderson and dedicated to The Los Angeles Belles, is a 3-part vocalise for SSA and Piano based on planetary motion and gravitational orbits. The voices represent the orbits of the planets (S1 as Venus, S2 as Earth, and Alto as Mars) around the sun, which is represented by the Piano. Each planet (voice) has a distinct repeating rhythmic pattern whose length corresponds to each planet’s sidereal period (how long it takes the planet to fully orbit around the sun). The repeating rhythmic pattern uses the musical technique of isorhythm, where a repeating rhythmic pattern (called the talea) is combined with separate pitch material (called the color). Venus’s sidereal period is roughly .616 Earth years, corresponding to a 7.5 measure talea. Earth’s sidereal period is 1 Earth year, corresponding to a 12 measure talea (based on the 12 months in a year). Mar’s sidereal period is roughly 1.9 Earth years, corresponding to a 22.75 measure talea. The rhythmic activity increases until the mid-point of each talea, after which the rhythmic value decreases again. This represents how planets increase in speed as they approach their closest point to the sun (perihelion) and decrease in speed as they approach the farthest point from the sun (aphelion).

The entire piece is tuned to the fundamental of Bb, as the lowest recorded note in the universe is a black hole that vibrates at a Bb 57 octaves below Middle C. The piece exclusively uses the Bb Lydian Dominant scale, also referred to as the acoustic scale, which can be created by assembling the first 12 partials of the overtone series based on the fundamental of Bb.

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My brand-new piece Lotus Flower for SA and Piano, commissioned by Ruth Ballenger, is receiving its world premiere next Thursday April 26th by the Ramona Convent Secondary School Chamber Singers. This piece was particularly exciting for me to compose because it sets the anthemic text by Analisa Vanegas (’18), who is an RCSS graduating senior this year. It … Continue reading April 14th, 2018

Lotus Flower, commissioned by Ruth Ballenger and dedicated to The Ramona Convent Secondary School Chamber Singers, sets the beautiful poem by Analisa Vanegas (Ramona Convent Secondary School, ’18) for SA Choir and Piano. The use of body percussion and rhythmic vocal lines bring out the anthemic nature of the text, which calls the younger generation to “value the oppressed” and “influence inspirations” as they grow into adults.

This piece is suitable for any treble voiced ensemble, high school choir, or choir looking to explore body percussion and syncopated rhythms.

Premiere: April 28th, 2018 at San Marino Community Church

 

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As Time Stops To Rest is a three-movement song cycle for SSAATTBB Choir and Piano, with featured soprano and tenor soloists. The cycle is dedicated to the composer’s late aunt Susan Jordan. The works sets three poems from a larger set of poetry entitled As Time Stops To Rest, also written by Susan Jordan. The song cycle has an overall arch form of peace followed by tragedy and loss, ultimately giving way to a final sense of peace.

The first movement, Two Friends, paints a peaceful scene of two friends losing track of time as they sit by the ocean enjoying their time together. The piece opens with serene rolled chords in the piano, which continue throughout almost the entirety of the movement. The constant rolling of the piano creates a sense of ocean waves continuously ebbing and flowing. The opening tenor solo describes the tranquil setting and is then joined by the full choir as “warmth and happiness intermix to form an afternoon shared by two close friends”. The movement features lush harmonies and detailed ensemble interplay. The movement concludes with the continued rolled chords in the piano and a final soft low cluster, as if the texture is sinking into the ocean.

The second movement, Storm’s End, opens with violent and flurried storm-like arpeggios in the piano, in stark contrast to the peaceful character of Two Friends. The tenors and basses open with a rigid imitative texture asserting how “the storm raged across the bliss field”. The piano then mimics raindrops falling more and more violently before finally giving way to a calmer texture. After the “storm” has ended, the full choir enters in a mostly homophonic, hymn-like texture describing an overwhelming peace that sometimes follows after an intense tragedy or loss. The piece climaxes on the words “day” and “fire”, alluding to the feeling of being in love with one’s life despite (and perhaps because of) the pain and suffering one has endured.

The third and final movement, Magic, describes how the narrator senses the closeness of “the spirit kingdom” all around him or her, but only has fleeting glimpses of it. The piece opens with an a cappella dialogue between the altos and tenors, who are then joined by the sopranos and basses. The a cappella opening features lush and tightly packed harmonies that lead to a soprano soloist cueing in a lyrical piano arpeggio. The piece then builds to the joyous climax of the whole song cycle: “But oh, for a moment I grow flowers with my hands!”, alluding to how powerful and wondrous these brief glimpses of the spirit kingdom are. The texture then drops down to lulling a cappella chords in the lower voices as two featured soprano soloists “dance on wings uplifted”. The narrator then finally enters “the kingdom of all” he or she has been sensing, possibly through death. The movement concludes peacefully as the narrator “enter[s] the kingdom of all and AM”. The piano concludes with a peaceful postlude recalling motives used throughout the movement.

This song cycle would be suitable for an advanced high school, college, or professional choir. The movements may be performed as stand-alone pieces or as part of the full cycle.

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“Magic” (the third and final movement of the choral song cycle As Time Stops To Rest) describes how the narrator senses the closeness of “the spirit kingdom” all around him or her, but only has fleeting glimpses of it. The piece opens with an a cappella dialogue between the altos and tenors, who are then joined by the sopranos and basses. The a cappella opening features lush and tightly packed harmonies that lead to a soprano soloist cueing in a lyrical piano arpeggio. The piece then builds to the joyous climax of the whole song cycle: “But oh, for a moment I grow flowers with my hands!”, alluding to how powerful and wondrous these brief glimpses of the spirit kingdom are. The texture then drops down to lulling a cappella chords in the lower voices as two featured soprano soloists “dance on wings uplifted”. The narrator then finally enters “the kingdom of all” he or she has been sensing, possibly through death. The movement concludes peacefully as the narrator “enter[s] the kingdom of all and AM”. The piano concludes with a peaceful postlude recalling motives used throughout the movement.

As Time Stops To Rest is a three-movement song cycle for SSAATTBB Choir and Piano, with featured soprano and tenor soloists. The cycle is dedicated to the composer’s late aunt Susan Jordan. The works sets three poems from a larger set of poetry entitled As Time Stops To Rest, also written by Susan Jordan. The song cycle has an overall arch form of peace followed by tragedy and loss, ultimately giving way to a final sense of peace.

Magic may be performed as part of the entire song cycle or as a stand-alone piece.

Also see the first movement Two Friends and the second movement Storm’s End.

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Shadows, commissioned by Kat Anderson and dedicated to The Los Angeles Belles, is a meditative piece for SSSAA, Piano, and Singing Bowl (with E tuning). Incorporating elements of minimalism, meditation practices, and modal inflections, “Shadows” creates a reflective and introspective mood. The setting of the text is meant to showcase the entire ensemble and each individual member. The text is passed around between parts, creating fun ensemble interplay.

The text describes the “lingering shadows” in “majestic purples, with touches of gray”, perhaps describing the deep colors left at the end of the day, particularly at dusk. The darkness and “cold winds” described in the text allow us to experience “the power of our lust” as “two souls touch in an explosion of being”. The ensemble highlights these changing moods through both subtle and surprising dynamic shifts and harmonic colors.

“Shadows” is a great piece for any intermediate to advanced women’s ensemble. It may be performed without the piano, if desired.

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In Memoriam is a three-movement song cycle, commissioned by Jonathan Bautista and Nova Vocal Ensemble, for SATB choir and featured soprano and baritone soloists. The song cycle, which sets the text written by Sharon Goldstein, is a commentary on 21st-century American Tragedy, focusing especially on the tragedies that occurred in 2016. The cycle begins and ends with the forward-looking refrain: “An ounce of pain must leaven a pound of love”. This refrain brings a sense of hope that love will always overcome hate and pain, and that communities will overwhelmingly choose love in reaction to acts of hate and violence.

The first movement, “The Fallen”, is dedicated to the African-American victims of law-enforcement-involved shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. It begins with a patriotic fanfare celebrating the 4th of July and freedom. The movement then takes a dark turn on the 5th of July, when Alton Sterling was killed. The choir and featured soloists engage in a call and response discussing the victims who died at the hands of law enforcement. The choir repeats the line “Do not forget them” as the soloists continue to grapple with these tragic deaths. The movement concludes with the soloists and choir begging the listener to not forget these names on the 4th of July.

The second movement, “The Cities”, is dedicated to the victims of the police officer shootings in Dallas, Texas (July, 2016). The movement begins with dissonant chord clusters and the whispering of tragedy- stricken countries and cities. As the text turns to memorializing these victims, the harmonies become more sonorous and rich. The movement ends with the choir imitating muted strings as a featured soprano soloist laments how “nature cries out in pain” when these victims’ lives are tragically ended too early.

The third movement, “Pulse”, is dedicated to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida (June, 2016). A drum beats a steady pulse while the choir members start building the anthemic line “They will not destroy us” word by word. This middle section is a more hymn-like passage setting the line “Our pain will bring forth love”, with harmonies recalling the first movement. The movement ends with the opening anthemic statement built word by word. The movement concludes with a final striking of the drum.

Overall, this song cycle is an attempt to memorialize all victims of violence while trying to find purpose and hope in the face of overwhelming pain and loss.

Opening Refrain
I. The Fallen
II.  The Cities
III. Pulse
Final Refrain

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Winking Waking Wishes Wail is a pensive and sometimes dark art song for soprano and piano. The text is by Susan Jordan, who was the composer’s late aunt. The poem’s text deals with the struggle between reason and dreams. It explores the relationship and interaction between the conscious and subconscious world. The music alternates between dreamy (and perhaps whimsical) and darker, brooding sections. This piece calls for exquisite dynamic control and subtle, expressive tempo alterations.

This song is perfect for a recital or chamber concert.

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The Breeze at Dawn is a wonderful translation by Coleman Barks of the hauntingly beautiful Rumi poem. The text delicately describes the subliminal space between the sleeping world and the waking world. The singer invites the listener to live in between those two worlds. The piece would fit well for any chamber ensemble concert that includes Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, and Piano.

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