Instructions for Angels

for 6-part mixed choir; 6′ (2001)
poetry: Kenneth Patchen
(winner of “Top Honors” in the emerging composer category of the
“Waging Peace Through Singing” competition, 2002)

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composer’s note:

Hieronymus_Bosch_089Kenneth Patchen has long been one of my favorite poets, and “Instructions for Angels” is one of his most powerful works. In it, he asks the angels to relay this message to God: that we here on Earth love nature, babies, flowers, rain & snow, our fellow humans… but hatred and war can go to Hell (both metaphorically and literally). My setting of Patchen’s verse aims to capture both the beauty of all the amazing things we have here on Earth, and the desperation and pain we’re surrounded by in our war-torn world. It begins with a long wordless introduction, just the sound of human voices joyfully singing together. But as that music continues it gets increasingly dissonant and complex, until finally it reaches a thorny, angular climax. At this point, the text begins, commenting on how to retain what is beautiful when war creeps in. As the piece goes on, the descriptions of our world’s beauty get increasingly lush and rich, blossoming into huge romantic textures. In contrast, the refrain “to Hell with power and hate and war” gets quieter and quieter as the piece continues, until finally one lone voice is left singing it all alone. We can’t let that lone voice die out. We must continue to hold on to beauty and peace in this world.

sample page:
Instructions for Angels