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Feeling the world as it passes through you (Naomi Shihab Nye) 2019

Song cycle for soprano, baritone and piano 
1. Woven by Air/Texture of Air (sop)
2. Cross That Line (bar)
3. Supple (sop)
4. Hello (bar) 
5. 300 Goats (duet)

Duration 18  minutes

This cycle was commissioned by the Sorel Foundation and SongFest 2019 and is dedicated to the memory of Sorel Foundation executive director, Judy Cope. It was premiered June 21, 2019 at SongFest 2019 at Zipper Hall in LA with soprano, Tory Browers, baritone, John Tibbetts and pianist, Bronwyn Schuman.


Program notes:

I chose the title for this cycle of four songs and a duet from words the poet said in an On Being podcast. In one response to interviewer, Krista Tippett, Nye described “feeling the world as it passes through you as a kind of text.”

  • For Woven by Air, Texture of Air, I constructed a moto perpetuo peppered with text’s sporadic interruptions. 
  • During the Red Scare of the 1950’s Paul Robeson’s passport was revoked and he was denied entry into Canada to sing for a Labor rally. In response he organized a concert at the Peace Arch located at the border of Washington and British Columbia. He arrived in a flatbed truck and sang over the border to a Canadian audience of 40,000 people.  In Cross That Line I intimate the sound of an old spiritual to mirror the powerful simplicity of Robeson’s performances. For the moral instruction of the poem’s second half I introduce new material in 6/8 to animate the poet’s cry for transformation.
  • In Supple Cord I composed undulating piano music to suggest the cord and employ 5/8 to paint the dreamy landscape of her memory, filtering up to inform the present. 
  • Ovid opens Metamorphoses with the line: “Let me sing to you now of how people turn into other things.”  In Hello Nye does a rift on this shifting instability as human is reincarnated into what s/he fears most. Once I found a piano theme with concurrent upward motion in the left hand and downward motion in the right to suggest the inexorable movements of the rat,  I was on my way to putting this patter song of terror and dark comedy on its feet.
  • For 300 Goats I use a madrigalian style to propel the dramatic storm towards the comic punchline.