This is Why We Sing

In late 2014 I was commissioned to write something for the 20th anniversary of The Summer Singers, a fine choir in Minnesota made up of people who missed having an outlet for their talents during the choral “off season.” I was moved by their desire to always be singing and wondered if we might try to find a text that somehow spoke to that element of their history. I asked poet Robert Ressler to see if he could come up with an original text and, after a few months of talking about it, he sent the gorgeous poem he had come up with. It’s universal, humbling, grand, and intimate at the same time, and it was a joy to compose to.

The final “chord” is my tribute to The Summer Singers and their 20-year history. Even when the temperature in Minnesota rises and most choral ensembles take a break, there is still a group of friends and colleagues who—like any choir in the world—gather to make beautiful music together.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Rules to live by

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.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Chansons de la Vigne

Rimbaud’s desire to live the Bohemian life is portrayed in the first song as a joyous celebration of a soul discovering what it wants in life. I tried to keep the harmonic language light and the pacing quick in order to introduce the set as a whole. The music is garish and over-the-top as the poet (who wrote nearly all of his life’s work between the ages of 16 and 19) seems to disappear into the night with his newly discovered purpose. Baquet de vin is informed by the harmonic language of Francis Poulenc as the angular leaps and harmonic jolts represent the staggering, back-and-forth walk of a person who may have had a bit too much to drink. That being said, it’s a happy drunken state and the setting ends on a warm and positive sonority. Given the first line of poetry it seemed absurd to set the third poem without a soloist. Since self-pity is something that builds on and sustains itself to its own negative conclusions, I wrote a choral ostinato that turns over and over again while the soloist slowly sings the bulk of the text. In order to give the choir some variety, I decided to use a piano for the final two movements. The first two and a half pages of La table et les deux verres bridge the gap between the chord-oriented, a cappella writing from the previous movements and the melodically driven remainder of the set. The text itself speaks to the first meeting of two people who eventually become lifelong friends and the eventual marriage of one of them. For the second half of the poem I wanted to write a running piano part to represent the inevitability of someone marrying their true love.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

winter

One of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had is silently watching a quiet snowfall. It seems to me that there is something about it which puts us directly in touch with our creator. The terrain and the air itself seem to come alive in their metamorphosis from trees, grass and sky to something nearly devoid of color and almost unrecognizable as its former self—an utterly pure world with snowflakes softly falling to rest on the earth. The text, an amalgamation of poems by E.E. Cummings all created in awe of nature, seemed to capture perfectly the beauty of silently falling snow.

winter was commissioned by the Northern Arizona University Shrine of the Ages Choir (Dr. Edith Copley, conductor) and received its premiere December 4, 2003. It is dedicated with love and gratitude to Ed, Brion, Jessica and Eric Grant.

This piece is one of four a cappella works which uses the seasons as its inspiration.  They can be performed starting on any of the movements as long as the cycle progresses in the cyclical order of the seasons.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Two Songs of Release

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

To My Parents

What is true forgiveness? I suppose I could wax philosophical in an effort to write something beautiful and insightful but I think that (a) I’m nowhere near that poetic (or smart…I mean let’s not mince words here) and (b) there is no way I could ever come as close as Wendell Berry does in his gorgeous text. Reading it for the first time was an amazing, visceral experience.

However, realizing immediately afterwards that I was going to have to set it to music was terrifying. It hits incredibly close to center with regards to being emotionally vulnerable and, at the time, it didn’t seem like it would be a lot of fun. Of course, we see this vulnerability all the time in the world of the confessional singer/songwriter so, in the end, my solution was to take a bit of that persona on in order to write this piece.

I tried to portray that sense of wandering and confusion that leads up to what I think is the revelation of true unconditional love. The opening theme (sung only by the women of the choir) comes back at the close of the piece sung by the entire ensemble and clothed in a warmer harmony than before; like a transgression remembered almost fondly with a wry smile and overwhelming gratitude.

Berry’s original poem is written only to his mother but, for my purposes here, I’ll give it a new title and dedicate this piece to both Alan Shank and Susan Witter-Shank.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Summer

When I spoke to Robert Ressler about the inspiration behind his poem, he told me it occurred to him when he had been helping a classroom of kindergarteners with an art lesson. None of the students were having much success with the activity, but one little girl—the youngest child in the class—was constructing extraordinarily beautiful flowers out of paper.

The poem he was inspired to write is about disadvantaged youth born into a world beyond their control, and their collective hope for something better.  “Summer” is the fourth and final movement of my work based around the seasons (all of which end on the same word), and in my setting of the poem I attempted to capture that optimism and gently propel the little girl's hopeful journey forward a bit.

This piece is one of four a cappella works which uses the seasons as its inspiration.  They can be performed starting on any of the movements as long as the cycle progresses in the cyclical order of the seasons.


Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Spring

We are stewards of the world around us and, in “There will come soft rain,” Sara Teasdale takes that notion and breaks it to us gently. In the first half of the poem she delicately paints a beautiful picture of a rainy night before she turns it around to kindly remind us to take care of the world we live in.

I adapted another Teasdale poem, “Twilight,” into the piece in order to fill out the imagery a bit.  It served to bring a first person point of view into the musical narrative and personalizes her reminder to use that nature laughs last.

This piece is one of four a cappella works which uses the seasons as its inspiration.  They can be performed starting on any of the movements as long as the cycle progresses in the cyclical order of the seasons.


Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Songs for Seven Days

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Musica animam tangens

As a composer of choral and vocal music, there is always one extra thing to worry about other than the music itself—the texts. 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 door of one of my best friends, Ryan Newstrom.

From the moment I read it I knew that I would eventually set it to music.  It expresses something that almost any musician knows to be true; that music puts us in touch with a higher power, something inexpressible and infinitely beautiful.  I asked him immediately if I could use it in a piece and without hesitation he said ‘yes.’

After deciding upon a Latin translation I found Dr. Byron Stayskal, Assistant Professor of Classics at Luther, to do it for me.  He is not only a brilliant teacher but also an amazing pianist and passionate musician and I am eternally grateful that he agreed to take this on.  Dr. Stayskal provided me with a beautiful, poetic translation of the original text which I immediately set to work on.

Unlike a lot of my choral pieces, Musica animam tangens was composed not on commission but instead was written as a gift for Weston Noble.  His sincere, unending support of my music and guidance in times of trouble means 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.  The message in Ryan’s poetry is at the heart of something that took Mr. Noble’s help for me to finally realize in my own life—the message that there is an undeniable connection between God and music.

Musica animam tangens is the winner of the 2003 Raymond W. Brock Memorial Student Composition Contest sponsored by the American Choral Directors Association and is dedicated with love and gratitude to Maestro Weston Noble.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

The Minstrel Boy

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

love.song

In early 2014 I was reading about a piece another composer wrote in which, like love.song, they took an open-ended phrase and crafted the text out of various completions of it they found via internet search results. After listening to that work I thought it might be an interesting exercise to try that process out myself and, at that moment, I heard someone say “He loved me because...” That seemed like it might yield some unique results so I plugged it into a search engine and discovered a beautiful constellation of humanity ranging from whimsical (“he loved me because he made me a mix tape”) to brutally honest confessions of spousal abuse (“he loved me because he took his gold sovereign rings off before he hit me”. love.song was the result of that process of gathering those anonymous responses into something of a narrative that runs the gamut of human experience.

love.song was commissioned by The Singers—Minnesota Choral Artists in celebration of their 10th anniversary as well as the end of my 10-year tenure as Composer-In-Residence.  It is dedicated with love and gratitude to all Singers past and present and especially to Artistic Director Matthew Culloton.



Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Go, Tell It on the Mountain

Go, Tell It on the Mountain is a spiritual familiar to us all. As singers and listeners, we sometimes forget the meaning of the words when they are attached to a familiar melody and, for this reason, I tried to highlight the text in my arrangement and present it in a fresh, new way. Ultimately, this spiritual is about joy overflowing so much that it requires a mountaintop to release it.

Go, Tell It on the Mountain was commissioned by The Singers and received its premiere on December 4, 2004.  It is dedicated with love and friendship to Dr. Matthew Culloton for his leadership, faith, and dedication to the choral art.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Gabriel's Message

I see this carol as a scene: Mary sits in the dark when light gently breaks in the room as the angel Gabriel reveals himself and slowly unfolds his wings (the opening phrase is meant to convey this). The rest of the piece is essentially a quiet waltz of profound, inner joy between the angel and the maiden.

I decided to use the Basque in the first verse because it adds to the mysterious quality of the music.  Aside from that it’s the language the carol was originally written in and, as such, has certain desirable qualities in the combinations of consonants and vowels that the English translation doesn’t (imagine Joy to the World sung in German: “Heiterkeit zur Welt”).

Gabriel’s Message was commissioned by The Singers—Minnesota Choral Artists and received its premiere on December 3, 2005.  It is dedicated with love to Matthew and Melissa Culloton.  The composer owes a special debt of gratitude to Argitxu Camus of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada in Reno.


Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

David's Lamentation

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Daughter Ecstatic

One of the warhorses of choral repertoire for the “holiday” season has always been Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. I love this piece dearly but I’ve always felt it suffered from a bit of overexposure so, when I was asked to write something for a December concert series, I jumped at the chance to update something from the old warhorse. What I ended up deciding on was a soprano aria from Handel’s piece and then tried “deconstructing” the basic elements before folding them into my own harmonic language. It begins with an ecstatic explosion of sound from the choir which eventually settles down into the recognizable melodies from the aria. The middle section collapses into a soli quartet before the choir signals the return of the original material.

“Daughter Ecstatic” was commissioned by The Singers - Minnesota Choral Artists (Matthew Culloton, conductor) and received its premiere on December 4, 2010.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Color Madrigals

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.

Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together. 

Autumn

We have all experienced intense emotional pain in our lives. Be it from the loss of a loved one, a relationship’s painful end, or something as profound as 9/11, we have all had those experiences which, in the end, help to define who we are. Regardless of what they are, we search for comfort from our pain and, sometimes, reasons appear which help us understand why such an event had to take place. In Autumn, Rilke comforts us (and perhaps himself) with the thought that, amidst all our pain, we are held in the hand of God “with infinite softness”—a touch so soothing it never ends.

Autumn was commissioned by the Choral Arts Ensemble Commissioning Club in honor of Bob and Kristi Giere for their generous and sensitive stewardship. It was premiered May 1, 2004 by the Choral Arts Ensemble under guest conductor Dale Warland.

This piece is one of four a cappella works which uses the seasons as its inspiration.  They can be performed starting on any of the movements as long as the cycle progresses in the cyclical order of the seasons.







Beth Beauchamp

Having worked as a professional musician, a music-educator, and the Executive Director of a number of non-profit arts organizations, Beth has over 10 years of experience in catering to the unique needs of artists. Beth believes that the talent, education, and skill-sets of her clients have inherent worth. As a passionate artist advocate, she aims to help her artists improve the quality of their own lives by encouraging them to honor the value of their own work, and by creating materials which allow them to champion their art with confidence. Equally interested in building community, Beth aims to create a roster of artists who are excited to support and collaborate together.