Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music: Composers’ Forums

The Choral Symposium Commissions

DALE WARLAND: I think we would all like to hear an explanation of the process you went through in this commission that you completed for the symposium. How did you settle on a text? Did you know which choir would be singing the work?

ERNANI AGUIAR: It was actually very interesting. My life is full of coincidences. I went home on the 10th of September 2001, and I found the envelope with the commission for the work. I was very happy. The next morning, the 11th of September, I went downstairs to have some coffee. And somebody came, and he said, “An airplane had crashed into the Empire State Building [the World Trade Center]. What a disaster!” So I started walking down the street. People were watching television. More and more people were watching television. I returned home and turned on the television. And I received a big shock when I saw what was happening in New York. I felt very bad. I was looking at the towers and little black things falling. It was people! They were dying. And I felt really very bad. And immediately I found a text for the music. I looked in the Psalms of David. And suddenly I just hit upon Psalm 74, because it was really the most appropriate for what had happened, praying for what happened. And I tried to simply apply that to music. And that was the way that the work was constructed.

DOMINICK ARGENTO: Exactly three years ago this month, August of 1999, I was having a physical check-up, getting ready for a stay in Florence –in September and October with a stop in New York. This has gotten to be our habit in retirement. And the doctor said, “Youíre not going any place.” In the three years since, I’ve gone through nine surgeries and it sort of killed my interest in writing music; I wrote no music at all during that time. As a matter of fact, I was really determined not to write any more music. I simply didn’t have the energy. But last September, we finally did return to Italy in September and October, and the second week in Florence, the phone rang and a friend said, “Turn on the television.” And of course, what I saw were the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers. Two weeks later I had an e-mail from a friend, whom some of you may know, –Bruce Carlson– who manages the Schubert Club. He was getting ready to print a booklet containing the program of an upcoming recital and wanted to include a poem by ShakespeareSonnet #64—which speaks about loss, speaks about lofty towers being down-razed–, it was almost as if it had been written for that tragedy. And he was sending it to me to ask if I found it –too bleak to be printed in the program booklet as his office staff did–. I agreed with his office staff but I also thought it was the worldís greatest case of serendipity because I had not yet found a text and only toyed with the idea that I would even write a piece for this symposium. I wasnít sure I would do it so I hadn’t been looking very hard for a text. But that text, Shakespeare’s –which seemed to be written especially for 9/11,– I found inspiring enough to make me think, “Well, maybe there is a piece of music here someplace.” And as a result, it is the only piece I’ve written in the past three years. It’s only a three-and-a-half minute piece, but it felt good to get started again.

CHEN YI: My piece is entitled Know You How Many Petals Falling? When I received this commission, it was after 9/11, and I remembered that whole month I was in New York, and had seen the city. I was so sad that I couldn’t work for five days during that period of time, because it was my second homeland: New York, the States. I studied there for many years—I graduated from Columbia University. When I came back to work, I took a Chinese poem that is from the Tang dynasty. I translated that into English because it is a requirement that this time we have to write in English. Although I had written another choral work with this old poem as the text, sung in Chinese, I found that this piece is more dramatic and with more contrast, and it’s more emotional. Also, I hope that it’s powerful in spirit to remember and to honor the New York firefighters, and to think more about the future and for peace on our earth. I have one other rehearsal on Saturday. I think the Elmer Iseler Singers are doing a great job.

R. MURRAY SCHAFER: When I received the information about the commission, I hesitated at first because I don’t particularly like writing something for people I have never met. I much prefer working with people that I do know and working cooperatively with them. So a choir was assigned on the other side of the world, and I wrote to the conductor, Derek DuHei, and suggested to him what I had in mind. And he wrote back and said, “Maybe you would like to write something on a Chinese poem.” I immediately felt that we each had our own idea of what we would do, what would be expected or appropriate. Rain Chant, which some of you heard yesterday, consists exclusively of words in an invented language. I would call these magic words, tone magic if you want because back very far in all cultures, people invented words and gave them presence and power. By saying those words and believing them, people believed they could change the world. So, Rain Chant, in its fundamental form, is sung every year with a group of people who camp in the bush and remain there for eight days in the wilderness of Northern Ontario. It has a very simple function; to make the rain go away. Sometimes we have to sing it for two or three hours, but eventually the rain does stop. So, I decided to make a very abbreviated version for the concert, since I didn’t expect there to be much rain in the hall, anyway. That’s what I did, I wrote a four-minute rain chant.

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