anthem for SATB choir and piano; 6′ (2005)
poetry: Marion Withey Engelke
(commissioned by University United Methodist Church, Madison, WI)
performed by the UUMC choir, dir. Peter Gruett:
buy the score:
Marion Withey Engelke was a member of University United Methodist Church in Madison, WI, who also happened to be a wonderful poet. When she passed away, UUMC commissioned me to set some of her poetry to music, to be sung by the choir at a special service in Marion’s memory. The text of this prayer immediately jumped out at me from a stack of her written works; it feels like the kind of text that’s existed forever, a prayer for wisdom and humility that is disarmingly simple and deeply moving. In setting it to music, I turned this brief prayer into something like a mantra, repeating it many times until it becomes an inner truth. It is presented first as a simple melody sung in near-unison, then blossoms into a lush 4-part canon full of gorgeous suspensions and soaring vocal lines, and finally settles into an a cappella chorale that presents the text in an honest & straightforward way. The harmonic underpinning beneath this mantra is a cyclical progression that travels around the “circle of 5ths” quite a few times, forever opening up new harmonic areas, and never settling in one place for long. This gives the whole piece a sense of continuous expansion, constantly seeking new corners of the musical space to inhabit. The overall effect is one of quiet contemplative prayer, but a kind of quiet contemplation that refuses to be stay in one place, never becoming complacent.