anthem for SATB choir and piano; 6' (2005) (commissioned by University United Methodist Church, Madison, WI)
performed by the University United Methodist Church choir, dir. Peter Gruett:
Lord, Let me live wisely, Open to knowledge, Yet judging its value.
Let me live kindly, Open to feelings, Knowing compassion.
Let me keep faith, Open to truths Of both heart and mind.
Let me know love, Taking my share But not seeking to bind.
composer’s note: 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, full of compassion and love and everything that's wonderful about churches (and I say this as a secular Jew myself).
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.