Sunset: St. Louis for SSA choir and piano was written at the suggestion of a conductor I met at the 2013 American Choral Directors’ Association national conference in Dallas, TX. He lamented the lack of new music for SSA choir that kept the voices within a restricted range yet wasn’t simplistic and also didn’t use a restricitve number of accompanying instruments; throughout the week his sentiment was echoed by countless other conductors who I had the pleasure of spending time with. At that point, I also had no music for treble/women’s choir in my catalog, so this piece is not only an attempt to fill in this hole in the repertoire, but also an attempt to fill in the hole in my own choral output.
The piece opens with a short passage for solo piano evocative of late afternoon light on water which leads into the voices’ hazy entrance of close diatonic harmonies and loose, liquid rhythms. After this soft opening, the piano begins a gently undulating, water-like accompaniment that – like the Mississippi – flows by, bringing harmonic shifts and swells.
The words “Dream by the river” captured my imagination, conjuring images of the city drifting to sleep as the sun sets, so I couldn’t resist making the single word “Dream” into a refrain, weaving it into the larger structure of the poem, which makes the piece not only a love song to the city, but also a lullaby.
The vocal parts have a compressed range: Soprano 1 has a few unsustained Gs, and the Alto line never drops below B-flat. There are some minor challenges with rhythm and pitch (hemiolas, tuplets, and some harmonic cross-relations with the piano), but all are navigable.
The piece was written and prepared for publication in a compositional frenzy between 1pm on March 30, 2013 and 7pm on March 31, 2013 in Montauk, NY.
Hushed in the smoky haze of summer sunset,
When I came home again from far-off places,
How many times I saw my western city
Dream by her river.
Then for an hour the water wore a mantle
Of tawny gold and mauve and misted turquoise
Under the tall and darkened arches bearing
Gray, high-flung bridges.
Against the sunset, water-towers and steeples
Flickered with fire up the slope to westward,
And old warehouses poured their purple shadows
Across the levee.
High over them the black train swept with thunder,
Cleaving the city, leaving far beneath it
Wharf-boats moored beside the old side-wheelers
Resting in twilight.