The music and lyrics of Songs of Hope in Strange Times: In Times of Stasis was written during the COVID-19 global pandemic of 2020-onwards and was commissioned by Westminster High School, directed by Kelly Ann Self. The overall song cycle is five movements long, with each movement reflecting on how to find hope and meaning during strange and unknown times of life. In Times of Stasis, the third movement of this song cycle, represents the sense of stasis deep in the waiting period of the pandemic. Without being able to observe the normal markers of time passing, such as birthdays, school years, or holidays, time seemed to stand still as each day blended into the next. This sense of moving neither forward nor backward is reminiscent of walking in the ocean tide, where one wave is crashing on shore and another is receding, creating the sense one is simply standing still. While it can be hard to find meaning in these static times, perhaps just being alive and present in this moment is in itself enough.
This movement could be performed as a stand-alone piece or as part of the entire song cycle. See other movements:
II. In Times of Hibernation
I am very thrilled to share this brand new recording of my piece Shadows for SSSAA Choir & Singing Bowl, which sets the gorgeous poem by my late aunt Susan Jordan. A huge thank you to A.J. Teshin & The Teshin Company for recording, mixing, and bringing this piece to life. The Teshin Company · … Continue reading June 22nd, 2022
The music and lyrics of We Have a Choice were composed as a reaction to the COVID-19 crisis. The piece explores aleatoric and performer-based textures that can be sung remotely through video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, or in live settings. The text explores our ability to choose our own paths and reactions in every situation, hopefully ultimately choosing to embrace the story with love, joy, hope, and peace.
The piece alternates between mostly-unison chant-like textures and aleatoric branching textures, in which the performers may choose their own path.
This piece is suitable for any Treble-Voice Choir interested in exploring virtual singing and limited- aleatoric textures that give performers ownership of the material. The piece may be sung in virtual or live settings as circumstances allow.
I Celebrate Life (the second and last movement of the Light Cycle suite), commissioned by Jennifer Gaderlund for the Graham Middle School Choirs, sets the beautiful poem by Rhoda Gordon, the composer’s late grandmother, for SATB (orig. SSA) Choir and Piano. The piece opens with an excited yet hushed ostinato in the Piano. The choir sings the first four lines of the poem by repeating the beginning line and adding the next line until it is complete, utilizing the modern technique of additive processes popular in Minimalism. In the more pensive middle section, the ostinato transforms into a more poignant texture as the Choir “realizes the joy of being through seeing the glorious creation” that they are a part of. The ostinato then speeds up and returns to the hushed excitement heard in the opening. The piece concludes with the Choir building up to the most important line of the text: “The most powerful light to celebrate by is love.”
This piece is suitable for any Mixed-Voice ensemble.
Light in the Darkness, commissioned by and dedicated to Dr. Mary Breden, sets the Christmas poem “Light in the Darkness” by poet Norval Clyne (1817-1888). The bright and bell-like piano accompaniment, although sometimes also quiet and pensive, reflects the simultaneous darkness of winter and the shining hope that the Savior’s birth brings the world on Christmas morning. Steadily building in intensity throughout the piece, the choir proclaims the coming great Light that is about to shine. The piece also features surprising modal shifts, harmonic progressions, and modulations.
This carol would fit well in any holiday-themed concert, Festival of Lessons and Carols, or sacred Christmas and/or Epiphany service.
The piece was premiered by the LMU Concert Choir, conducted by Dr. Mary Breden, on December 6th and 8th, 2018 at Sacred Heart Chapel at Loyola Marymount University.
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.
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.
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
Continue reading Lotus Flower
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.