Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Jan 1st, 2015 In: choral choral a cappella Comments: 0

Musica animam tangens

for SATB, a cappella

Available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

As a composer of choral music there is always one extra thing to worry about other than the music itself. For this reason I’m always on a constant lookout for poetry which I might like to set in the future and, sometimes, I’ll find it in the strangest of places. This particular text I happened upon posted on the dorm room door of one of my friends from my time at Luther College, Ryan Newstrom.  From the moment I read it I knew that I would eventually set it to music. It expresses something that many musicians will tell you about how they encounter their art; that it somehow puts them in touch with a higher power, something inexpressible and infinitely beautiful. I asked Ryan immediately if I could use it in a piece and without hesitation he said ‘yes.’

 

Because of the brevity of the original text, I decided to have it translated into Latin. For this task I contacted Dr. Byron Stayskal who, at the time, was a Classics professor at Luther College. He is not only a brilliant teacher but also an amazing pianist and I am eternally grateful that he gave of his time to take this on. Dr. Stayskal provided me with a beautiful, poetic translation of the original text which I immediately set to work on. If you re-translate the text out of Latin, you’ll see some of Dr. Stayskal’s amazing poetry and how he took on the translation with his own unique voice.

 

Musica animam tangens was written as a gift for Weston Noble. He lead the Luther College Nordic Choir for nearly 60 years and his sincere, unending support of my music and guidance in times of trouble mean more to me than words can express.  And, since he is the person who initially encouraged me to put the proverbial pen to paper, I wanted to attempt to give a gift worthy of his wisdom and humility.

 

I gave the piece to Mr. Noble later that summer and that was that. I decided to send it off to the American Choral Directors Association Raymond W. Brock Memorial Composition Contest (at the last minute if I remember correctly) and then promptly forgot about it. Less than 2 weeks before my final year at Luther College was to begin in the summer of 2002, I got a letter in my mailbox informing me that I had won that contest! The ACDA flew me out to New York City the next February and put me up in an awesome hotel overlooking Times Square and the United States Air Force Singing Sergeants (under the sterling direction of Captain Chad A. Steffey) premiered the piece in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center! Barbara Harlow from Santa Barbara Music Publishing even sat next to me for one of the shows…I felt like a total rock star.

 

Musica animam tangens has gone on to be performed all over the world and I receive so many wonderful messages about people encountering this work and finding something of themselves in it.  For me it’s something I wrote in my very first years of trying to be a composer as a gift for the person who, when I told them I might want to try my hand at writing music, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Then that’s what you should do.”

 

Music touching;
Exhaling its breathless oceans of life
Currents that free hearts giving love to

All that open the sounds that fill
The mountain of my existence
And overflow my soul to touch
God.

 

Musica animam tangens
Maria vitae effundens
Flumina cor liberantia omnes amore amantia
Musica sonans resonans
Implens meam essentiam
Meam inundat animam
Velut fluctibus montem submersum
Ut tangam Deum.

 
By Ryan Newstrom (b. 1979)
Latin translation by Dr. Byron Stayskal

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Jan 1st, 2015 In: choral accompanied SATB TB Comments: 0

The Boy Who Picked Up His Feet to Fly

for SATB or TTBB and Piano or String Quintet

Available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

The Boy Who Picked Up His Feet to Fly was premiered by the Concert Choir of Brooklyn Center High School (a school in the Twin Cities) and, more than any other piece that I have worked on, has had the strangest journey from its initial commission to publication.

 

After the 2001 Dorian Summer Music Camp, a conductor named Erica Kragness approached me about writing a piece for her high school choir. I was overjoyed…my first official commission! I decided that I wanted to do something fun and chose a poem by Shel Silverstein, a poet that my mother read to my little brother and I when we were kids. The text I chose, “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too,” is about three tiny men going for a ride in a flying shoe and it was perfect for what I wanted to do with the music. The whole piece took about a month to work out and, in the end, I had a blast writing it and was very happy with the result. And so I sent it straight to Erica and that was that.

 

Unfortunately, in the world of the professional choral composer (a place which, until this time, I was unacquainted with), you have to ask for permission to use a text which isn’t in the public domain. Not knowing this, I naively assumed I could easily get permission to use the Silverstein poem.

 

Turns out I was wrong.

 

Apparently Mr. Silverstein declared before his untimely death that absolutely no one was allowed to set his texts to music, and since publishing companies tend to take their time on these sorts of things, I didn’t receive notification of this sad fact until some time in November. The piece was now dead in the water and all that work I had put in was apparently for nothing. The even bigger problem was that Ms. Kragness was to start teaching her commissioned piece in January!

 

After long thought about what to do I decided to ask Mark Robinson, a poet/actor/singer friend of mine to write a new poem for the piece. He graciously accepted and began work soon after.

 

Now, what you hear is a piece which, textually, flows perfectly. In fact, because Mark did such an amazingly good job with the poetry, it’s hard to appreciate the incredible effort he must have put in.  Needless to say, Mark came through flawlessly. I got the poem just before Christmas break and the finished piece, now retitled The Boy Who Picked Up His Feet to Fly to match the new text, got to Ms. Kragness and choir right on time. In fact, I like the new poem even better than the old and this piece has gone one to be performed by All-State, community, high school and college choirs all over the world. One in particular that I remember was a performance I was able to attend at the Dorian Vocal Festival at Luther College where Weston Noble conducted it with over 1,000 singers!

 

In the end, I am eternally grateful to Mark (who is as flabbergasted as I am about how this all worked out so well). Without his astounding creativity, the piece which became Boy might still be dead in the water. So, from the bottom of my heart, a huge ‘thank you’ goes out to Mr. Mark Robinson.

 

The Boy Who Picked Up His Feet to Fly received its premiere on March 21, 2002 and is dedicated with love to my little brother Zach.  I was asked a few years later by Dr. Tim Fredstrom to cast it in a TTBB arrangement for his ensemble at Illinois State University and, in 2013, Anthony Trecek-King asked if I would make a string quintet arrangement of the piano part.  Both are available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

Soaring and spinning and touching the sky
The boy who picked up his feet to fly
“Hooray!”
“Oh dear!”
“So long, good-bye!”
Said Johnny and Jenny and Alison Bly

 

Flying on sunbeams and kissing the sky
The houses and trees all whizzing right by
As further
And faster
He flew upon high
The boy who picked up his feet to fly

 

Mountains and deserts and oceans and sky
The moon and the sun and the birds that cry
“No more,
I’m tired.
I’ve had my try.”
Said the boy who picked up his feet to fly

 

The boy who picked up his feet to fly
Never was able to step from the sky
But flew on and on as years passed by
And deep in the wind you can still hear him sigh…

 

By Mark Robinson (b. 1978)

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Jan 1st, 2015 In: chamber instrumental Comments: 0

Persist

for Violin, Cello, and Piano

My family has a history of being really willful. In fact, my mother called being obstinate about something “being Shanky” for years. I don’t know what it was other than some old school, Midwestern stubbornness but, over the years, I’ve grown to hate getting into an argument with pretty much anyone because it always seemed like such a fruitless gesture. They say one thing and then you spend five minutes unpacking the (sometimes ridiculous) rationale of their contentious point of view. Then when you think you’ve solved the problem they dig their heels in about something else–seemingly for no reason at all–and you have to repeat the process all over again before eventually just throwing your hands in the air in exasperation.

 

That sequence of argue-solve-argue is a good metaphor for what happens in Persist. Over the course of the piece, the three instruments constantly try to find some common ground but never completely get there. They come close many times but, just when they begin to get to that point, one of them will foul the harmony and the argument begins anew. Eventually they find a space where they can all sort of be playful together…but the majority of Persist is about being Shanky.

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Jan 1st, 2015 In: choral accompanied TB Comments: 0

Two Murder Ballads

for TB and Piano

Available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

I taught high school choir for 6 years in the Twin Cities and, during one of my postings, I had a first-year men’s ensemble that ranged from anywhere from 35 to 55 members.  I had a blast with those guys but always found it challenging to find appropriate repertoire for that age group and skill level that wasn’t about (a) being a pirate/sailor, or (b) pretty girls.  Consequently, I found these two murder ballads that were just weird enough to keep their attention as well as push them a bit here and there and arranged them for TB and, occasionally, soloists.  The ranges are conservative but the subject of the poetry is not what they were used to.

 

Bar’bry Allen
This arrangement doesn’t feature the tune most people associate with the story of “Barbara Allen.”  It’s far darker.  However, the same basic story is there: a man on his deathbed is jilted by the titular character who, upon his death, suddenly loses her hard heart and believes she will die the following day.

 

The Two Sisters

The story of the two sisters described in this murder ballad is a strange one.  There are many different version in which they come from various places (Edinburgh, County Clare, or Kentucky, for instance) and meet a variety of people (a miller, a fisherman, etc.).  However, there are a few details that are almost always the same.

 

It’s traditionally about a jealous sister murdering her sibling in order to gain the favor of a man.  The corpse is later fished out of the river by someone who then fashions a musical instrument of some sort out of her various body parts.  This instrument then goes on to torment the murderous sister in her guilt by only playing a single tune (represented by the refrain over and over).

 

The nice thing about this peculiar story is that the tune is gorgeous and strangely peaceful.  I chose to use a lot of text-painting in the piano part to keep the various refrains from sounding too repetitive and, hopefully, there is plenty to listen for.

 

Bar’bry Allen

All in th emerry month of May
When green buds they were swellin’
That young Jimmy Grove on his deathbed lay
For love of Bar’bry Allen

 

He sent his men into the town
To the place where she was dwellin’
Sayin’ “Will you come to my master dea,
If your name be Bar’bry Allen?”

 

And slowly, slowly got she up
And slowly came she nigh him
And all she said when there she came,
“Young man, I think you’re dyin’.”

 

“Oh yes I’m sick, I’m very sick
Indeed I think I’m dyin’,
But a word from you would revive me again
If your name be Bar’bry Allen.”

 

“Do you recall, young man,” she said,
“When the red wine you were swillin’
How you made the ladies’ health go ’round
And you slighted Bar’bry Allen?”

 

And death is printed on his face
And all his heart is stealin’,
But still he cried when she left his side,
hard-hearted Bar’bry Allen.

 

As she was goin’ over the field
She heard the death bell tollin’,
And ev’ry sound that death bell gave,
“Hard-hearted Bar’bry Allen.”

 

“Oh mother, mother make me a bed.
Make it soft and narrow.
Since young Jimmy died for me today,
I’ll die for him tomorrow.”

 

 

The Two Sisters
There were two sisters walking down by a stream.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
The older one pushed the younger one in.
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

Pushed her in the river to drown.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
Watched her as she floated on down.
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

Floated on down to the old mill pond.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
She floated on down to the old mill pond.
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

The miller fished her out with his long, long hook.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
And he brought this maid in from the brook.
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

Made a fiddle bow from her long yellow hair.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
Made a fiddle bow from her long yellow hair.
Cried oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

Made a fiddle bridge from her own nose bridge.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
Made a fiddle bridge from her own nose bridge.
Cried oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

And he made a fiddle from her own breastbone.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
The sound could melt a heart of stone.
Cried oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

 

The only tune that fiddle could play.
Oh, the wind and the rain.
The only tune that fiddle would play.
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Dec 31st, 2014 In: Uncategorized Comments: 0

The Minstrel Boy

for SATB, a cappella

 

This piece is available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

The story in this poem is heartbreakingly beautiful: a lone minstrel boy falls in defense of his country and refuses to let his harp be taken by the enemy. He tears the strings out of the instrument and, with his dying breath, pays tribute to it. Alongside this text is the Irish Air called “The Moreen” (which is so perfectly suited to the poem that it would seem they sprang to life simultaneously). Armed with these two pieces I tried to tell the story of the minstrel in a way that communicates the emotion of the poem to the singers and audience.

 

The Minstrel Boy was commissioned by the Hudson High School Chamber Choir under the direction of Tony Mudra. It is dedicated to my good friend Dan Johnson, who inadvertently showed me this folk song while watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (it seems that inspiration comes in many guises!).

 

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” cried the warrior bard,
“Tho’ all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy right shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

 

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s steel
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he lov’d never spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said, “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!”

 

(US Civil War verse)
The minstrel boy will return, we pray,
When we hear the news we all will cheer it.
The minstrel boy will return one day,
Torn perhaps in body, not in spirit.
Then may he play upon his harp in peace,
In a world such as Heaven has intended,
For all the bitterness of man must cease,
And every battle must be ended.

 

By Thomas Moore (Ireland, 1779-1852)

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Dec 31st, 2014 In: choral accompanied SATB Comments: 0

From Where I Stood

for SATB and Piano

This piece is available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

In life there are plenty of things to feel stressed about. Whether it be too much homework at once or a seemingly never-ending cascade of bills to pay (or a deadline to write a new piece of choral music) there are always things that demand our focus and, for some reason or another, make us feel like we’ll never have enough time to be successful. What I love about Millay’s text is that, at the end, she just throws her hands up at it all and forces herself to relax.

 
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced a line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.

 

Over these things I could not see:
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.

 

But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
Miles and miles above my head;
So here upon my back I’ll lie
And look my fill into the sky.

 

excerpt from Renascence
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Dec 31st, 2014 In: choral accompanied SATB Comments: 0

Sleeping Out: Full Moon

for SATB and Piano

 

This piece is available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

 

In 2006 I was commissioned by the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus to write something as part of the composition competition they’ve been putting on since 2001.  My response was to find this beautiful poem by Rupert Brook and set it for choir and piano.  I love this text because each line is a microcosm of hazy, nuanced language that results in a series of dramatic images. It was a dream to write music to because Brooke imbued everything with such a great sense of forward motion and sweeping gestures. I imagine that, had he survived World War I past the age of 28, he would have become a literary giant. Winston Churchill himself wrote the obituary:

 

“…this life has closed at the moment when it seemed to have reached its springtime. A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this present war, than any other more able to express their thoughts of self-surrender, and with a power to carry comfort to those who watch them so intently from afar. The voice has been swiftly stilled. Only the echoes and the memory remain; but they will linger.”

 

“…joyous, fearless, versatile, deeply instructed, with classic symmetry of mind and body, ruled by high undoubting purpose, he was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in the days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely proffered.”

 

Winston Churchill
excerpts from Brooke’s obituary note in the Times
April 26, 1915

Sleeping Out: Full Moon
They sleep within…
I cower to the earth, I waking, I only.
High and cold thou dreamest, O queen, high dreaming and lonely.

 

We have slept too long, who can hardly win
The white one flame, and the night long crying;
The viewless passers; the world’s low sighing
With desire, with yearning,
To the fire unburning,
To the heatless fire, to the flameless ecstasy!…

 

Helpless I lie.
And around me the feet of thy watchers tread.
There is a rumour and a radiance of wings above my head,
An intolerable radiance of wings…

 

All the earth grows fire,
White lips of desire
Brushing cool on the forehead, croon slumbrous things.
Earth fades; and the air is filled with ways,
Dewy paths full of comfort. And radiant bands,
The gracious presence of friendly hands,
Help the blind one, the glad one, who stumbles and strays,
Stretching wavering hands, up, up, through the praise
Of a myriad of silver trumpets, through cries,
To all the glory, to all gladness, to the infinite height,
To the gracious, the unmoving, the mother eyes,
And the laughter, and the lips, of light.

 

By Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Dec 30th, 2014 In: choral SATB Comments: 0

Color Madrigals

for SATB, a cappella

This piece is available through Graphite Publishing.  You can purchase the full work or individual movements.  A guide to deciphering all the mythological references that Keats makes is also provided.

 

In 2007 I was asked by Matthew Culloton to write something for a project that The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists were doing on the theme of “spring.”  I searched high and low until I eventually found a poem by John Keats that I felt was appropriate.  The only problem was that it was a bit short for what Matt wanted.  However, it mentioned the word “green” at one point during the text so I asked if I might expand on the single piece I’d been tasked to write and, instead, give him two pieces using Keats texts that mentioned color.  The result was the first “volume” of what I called Color Madrigals.  After reading Keats’s collected works searching for texts that mentioned color (“orange” was near impossible to find), I went on the compose two more of these volumes for the Summer Singers (Vicki Peters, conductor) and The Singers, respectively, until I had the full set of primary and secondary colors.

 

Serpents in Red Roses Hissing
This text starts off very simply as an exercise in dichotomy: every line contains two things which are diametrically opposed to one another. Keats takes this principle and seemingly works himself into a rhythmic frenzy until his poem sounds more like a witch’s incantation than a piece of poetry. But then, at line 23 (“O the sweetness of the pain!”), it suddenly turns into a beautiful elegy as he calls upon the Muses. After all this Keats ends up very simply in passion and sorrow over the grave of his beloved—a beautiful (and very human) ending to a poem that spends most of its energy invoking the gods.

 

Blue! ‘Tis the Life of Heaven
Of all the Color Madrigals, this text is the only one written about the actual color it takes its title from. Keats captures blue in all its forms by bringing the poem from the heavens to the ocean and finally back to the earth. Because of this, the poetry becomes more and more intimate as it progresses. I chose to write a gradually expanding hymn to create a sense of reverence for my own favorite color.

 

Purple-Stainéd Mouth
When I read this text for the first time, I always got stuck on the last two lines. I kept associating it with the image of someone whose heart is broken taking refuge in a bottle of wine. The eight lines of the poem that lead up to this are what this person wishes for but, in the end, probably doesn’t get. Anyone who has ever felt heartbroken knows this feeling and, although we usually heal ourselves of our own accord, “drowning your sorrows” can seem awfully inviting sometimes.

 

Yellow Brooms and Cold Mushrooms
The life of a satyr must be an easy thing. Essentially they just follow the wine-god around and spend most of their lives wrapped in joy and ecstasy in a drunken state of glee. I used some extended vocal techniques (glissandi, vocal “hiccups” and a violent, “drunken” key change) to portray the unpredictable nature of a jovial forest creature that’s had way too much to drink.

 

A Grass-Green Pillow
If there were a “standard” subject for poetry centered on the season of spring it would probably be the subject of love and, more specifically, new love. Luckily, the genius of Keats takes on this traditional theme with the amazing, poetic language and seamless rhyme he is known for. I gravitated towards this particular text because of the symmetry between the first and second halves of the poem. In the first two stanzas it sounds like the stereotypical, overzealous young man trying to woo a maiden who might be above him in social standing and may or may not return his sentiments. However, once you reach the midway point (and especially in the last stanza), it suddenly becomes much more tender and romantic—as if he suddenly figures out the difference between lust and love.

 

I’d like to think he chooses the latter.

 

Orange-Mounts of More Soft Ascent
It seems that Keats was not a fan of the color orange. I can’t say that I am either but, after undertaking the task of reading Keats’ collected works to find poems that mentioned colors, I wish he would have enjoyed it a little more because it seems that in his short life he only used the word “orange” once in his poetry. Granted that it’s one of those words that’s sort of famous for not rhyming with anything, but it still seemed ironic that in 458 pages the color only came up once.

 

That being said, I was lucky he decided to use it in a great poem. In the eight lines I excerpted Keats sprays invective on the prideful like a literary skunk (and even mentions another color in the process). He builds toward a final, desperate accusation to the heavens spitting out consonants like a great snake along the way.

 

A Song of Opposites

Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow,
Lethe’s weed and Hermes’ feather;
Come today, and come tomorrow,
I do love you both together!
I love to mark sad faces in fair weather,
And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder.
Fair and foul I love together:
Meadows sweet where flames burn under,
And a giggle at a wonder;
Visage sage at pantomime;
Funeral, and steeple chime;
Infant playing with a skull;
Morning fair, and stormwrecked hull;
Nightshade with the woodbine kissing;
Serpents in red roses hissing;
Cleopatra regal-dressed
With the aspics at her breast
Dancing music, music sad,
Both together, sane and mad;
Muses bright and Muses pale;
Sombre Saturn, Momus hale.
Laugh and sigh, and laugh again—
O the sweetness of the pain!
Muses bright, and Muses pale,
Bare your faces of the veil!
Let me see! and let me write
Of the day and of the night—
Both together. Let me slake
All my thirst for sweet heartache!
Let my bower be of yew,
Interwreathed with myrtles new;
Pines and lime-trees full in bloom,
And my couch a low grass tomb

 

Answer to a Sonnet Ending Thus:
“Dark eyes are dearer far than orbs that mock the hyacinthine bell”—J.H. Reynolds

 

Blue! ‘Tis the life of heaven, the domain
Of Cynthia, the wide palace of the sun,
The tent of Hesperus, and all his train,
The bosomer of clouds, gold, grey and dun,
Blue! ‘Tis the life of waters—Ocean
And all its vassal streams, pools numberless,
May rage, and foam, and fret, but never can
Subside, if not to dark blue nativeness.
Blue! Gentle cousin to the forest-green,
Married to green in all the sweetest flowers—
Forget-me-not, the blue-bell, and, that queen
Of secrecy, the violet. What strange powers
Hast thou, as a mere shadow! But how great,
When in an eye thou art, alive with fate!

 

Excerpt from Ode to a Nightingale
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delvéd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dancing, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainéd mouth,
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim—

 

Excerpt from Endymion
‘Whence came ye, jolly Satyrs! Whence came ye,
So many, and so many, and such glee?
Why have ye left your forest haunts, why left
Your nuts in oak-tree cleft?’—
‘For wine, for wine we left our kernel tree;
For wine we left our heath, and yellow brooms,
And cold mushrooms;
For wine we follow Bacchus through the earth;
Great god of breathless cups and chirping mirth!
Come hither, lady fair, and joined be
To our mad minstrelsy!’

 

A Grass-Green Pillow
‘Where be ye going, you Devon maid’?
Where be ye going, you Devon maid?
And what have ye there i’ the basket?
Ye tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy,
Will ye give me some cream if I ask it?

 

I love your meads, and I love your flowers,
And I love your junkets mainly,
But ’hind the door I love kissing more,
O look not so disdainly.

 

I love your hills, and I love your dales,
And I love your flocks a-bleating—
But O, on the heather to lie together,
With both our hearts a-beating!

 

I’ll put your basket all safe in a nook,
And your shawl I hang up on this willow,
And we will sigh in the daisy’s eye
And kiss on a grass-green pillow.

 

Excerpt from Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil
Why were they proud? Because their marble founts
Gushed with more pride than do a wretch’s tears?—
Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mounts
Were of more soft ascent than lazar stairs?—
Why were they proud? Because red-lined accounts
Were richer than the songs of Grecian years?—
Why were they proud? again we ask aloud,
Why in the name of Glory were they proud?

 

John Keats (England, 1795-1821)

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Dec 30th, 2014 In: choral choral accompanied symphonic Comments: 0

A Christmas Carol

for SATB and Piano or String Orchestra and Harp

 


This piece is self-published so, if you’re interested in looking at the score, you can email me at joshua@joshuashank.com.

 

Dickens’ masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, is a story about transformation and the chance for redemption which just happens to be set during the Christmas season. This holiday can mean many things to many different people but, in my case (as in Ebenezer Scrooge’s), it’s simply a time that serves as a reminder as to how we’re supposed to be treating our “fellow-passengers” during the rest of the calendar year.

 

A Christmas Carol was commissioned by the Mesa High School A Cappella Choir (Germán Aguilar, Conductor) and is dedicated with love to my little sister, Caitlin.  A few years later Daniel Hughes asked me to orchestrate it for string orchestra and harp.  That version–which they performed beautifully–is up a half step and has a few extra measures here and there (thanks, Daniel!).

 
“There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

 

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that, while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laugher and good humour.

 

Scrooge was better than his word…He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world.

 

“A merry Christmas to us all my dears. God bless us!”
“God bless us, every one!”

 

Excerpts from A Christmas Carol (1843)
By Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Posted By: shank.joshua@gmail.com On: Dec 26th, 2014 In: solo vocal Comments: 0

Services of Snow

for Low or High Voice and Piano


Purchase both the High or Low Voice versions through Graphite Publishing.

 

Services of Snow is a song cycle which uses four poems by the American poet Emily Dickinson as its departure point. The first text floats quietly over a dreamy accompaniment which alternates between major and minor until the singer eventually spills out into her upper range at the mention of a “brighter garden.” In “Denial,” the music is jittery and lurching as the poetry talks about a human being’s will as a “numb significance.” The third movement lays Dickinson’s text over a piano ostinato reminiscent of a Ben Folds song and here she is pissed off and defiant; an embattled martyr striking out at the thing which holds her back. After all this consternation comes the eponymous final movement. The text is delicate and the music responds by providing a gentle cloud of harmony for it to glide over like water slowly sliding over ice.

 

This song cycle was commissioned by (and is dedicated to) soprano Jessica Hardy.

 

1. There is another sky
There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields—
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright be hum;
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

 

2. Denial
Denial is the only fact
Perceived by the denied.
Whose will a numb significance
The day the heaven died

 

And all the earth strove common round
Without delight or beam
What comfort was it wisdom was
The spoiler of our home.
3. Bind me
Bind me—I still can sing—
Banish—my mandolin
Strikes true within—

 

Slay—and my Soul shall rise
Chanting to Paradise—
Still thine.

 

4. Services of Snow
I cannot be ashamed
Because I cannot see
The love you offer—
Magnitude
Reverses modesty

 

And I cannot be proud
Because a height so high
Involves Alpine
Requirements
And services of snow.

 

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)