ISU Fine Arts Festival 2003
ISU Madrigal Singers /
Kristi Benedick, flute /
Dr. Amy Gilreath, trumpet /
Scott Simon, chimes /
Dennis M. Tobenski, conductor
Illinois State University, University Galleries
3. Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
The ISU College of Fine Arts commissioned Elegy as a part of their 3rd Annual Fine Arts Festival, which centered around two major themes, technology and the events of Sept. 11, and I was asked to write a piece that in some way incorporated one of the two ideas. Because technology is not a significant element in my music – it’s a great tool in its creation, to be sure, but my music so far uses only traditional orchestral instruments – I decided to tackle the rawer, more immediate topic.
By this point, I had been singing with the Madrigal Singers for several years, and they had already premiered several of my choral works, so I felt it appropriate to continue working with the choir for this commission, but decided to augment the ensemble with flute, trumpet, and some minimal percussion.
During the planning of the composition, I settled on a four movement structure, each moving directly into the next without pause. The first movement uses the choir as a canvas for the flute’s mournful melody, then moves to a quasi-aleatoric section for choir alone, the pointillistic monosyllables interrupted twice by sudden, striking, full harmonies. The tense, almost jittery, aleatoric section slowly smooths out after the second interruption, settling on a unison G.
The antiphonal second movement is to a text of my own creation based on the Kyrie of the Requiem Mass; however, I turned it somewhat on its head:
Requiem, dona nobis requiem.
Vita eleison; mors eleison; vita eleison.
Et pax aeternam luceat nobis.
Grant us rest.
Life have mercy, death have mercy, life have mercy.
And may eternal peace shine upon us.
While my Latin grammar may not be perfect (and “Kyrie eleison” I later learned is actually Greek), the sentiment is strong: May we have rest from war and grief; may our lives and deaths be merciful; may we live in peace.
After a final trumpet call, the choir takes the fore in the third movement “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep”. The movement is a straight-forward setting of the traditional poem, and a piece that I’m very proud of. Throughout the piece I play with suspensions – resolving some, leaving others to hang in the air – an apt analogy to death. The final chord of the movement is also left unresolved – hovering, waiting.
The final movement is for chimes alone. The percussionist rests for nine long beats of silence, then strikes the chimes eleven times, finally putting to rest the choir’s unresolved last chord. While the simple number game may seem a little corny, it is a remarkably affective moment: of reflection, of peace, of honest discomfort at the sudden stillness and absence of the silenced voices.