A few years ago I heard a choral piece in which the composer worked with a librettist to “update” various passages from the Bible and one phrase really stuck out: “If someone hits you in the face, offer them the rest of your face.” This was obviously a reference to the concept of turning the other cheek—a phrase I've heard so many times that the concept it's trying to get across essentially just goes in one ear and out the other—but it was couched in a visceral new language. Ever since I first heard that piece I've wanted to try something like that on a grander scale, and a commission from The Choral Project turned out to be the right venue to explore that idea.
When conductor Daniel Hughes and I began to talk about what shape we'd like this collaboration to take we decided we wanted something as universal as possible. I've always been fascinated by lists of rules that the various religions and governments of the world have in order for a functional society to form so I suggested we find as many of these lists as we could and then “translate” them into modern verbiage. I gathered excerpts from, among other sources, The Bible, the principles of the Bahá'í faith, a declaration of socialist principles from a 1989 meeting in Stockholm, a mission statement from a non-profit organization, and even a pop song from the 90s. These formed the basis for what would become the text for the new piece, but it was important to me that this work—commissioned for the 20th anniversary of the choir—incorporate the community of that ensemble as well. To honor that history, I asked the members of the choir to finish the phrase “I believe...” as many times as they wanted. Some of the responses I got were cheeky (“I believe there's no singing allowed in the bedroom”) and others were heartfelt (“I believe in my children”) but they all formed a beautiful picture of the musical community which has been hard at work for 20 years.
The final text is a credo of sorts; rules humanity attempted to follow more than a thousand years ago as well as things some singers from California remind themselves of in their daily lives in the year 2016. It's my hope that this piece, rules to live by, will serve as a keepsake for the choir on their 20th anniversary as well as a gentle reminder for those of us in the audience about how we should be treating ourselves and others.