Vive la Liberté! for two-part treble chorus, flute, percussion, and piano
This work was commissioned by the Lafayette 250 Committee of Arrangements for a performance by the St. Patrick Catholic School Concert Choir, under the direction of Paul Cunningham, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette on the occasion of his 250th birth anniversary, the celebration of which was held in historic downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina on the 6th day of September 2007, in the first city in the United States to be named for Lafayette.
Performed by the Cal State Fullerton Women’s Choir under the direction of Dr. Erin Colwitz
*This piece is the winner of the treble category in the 2008 Roger Wagner Center for Choral Studies International Composition Competition.
Vive la Liberté was commissioned to celebrate the life of the Marquis de Lafayette and his constant belief in liberty and freedom for all people. His involvement in this quest stretched from the American Revolution through the French Revolution and beyond. He was a remarkable individual, and I thought a fitting way to honor him would be through composing a piece that encompassed his lifelong dedication to freedom on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and by combining texts that showed these virtues.
The phrase “Vive Lafayette! Vive la Liberté!” which was shouted by the people during the French Revolution as he fought for their rights also serves as a fitting way to honor him in the opening of this piece. The quote “Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.” was apparently spoken by Lafayette after the defeat of the British during the battle of Yorktown in Virginia. The final quote “America is destined to become the safe and venerable asylum of virtue, of honesty, of tolerance, and of peaceful liberty” was taken from a letter the young idealist Lafayette wrote to his wife, Adrienne, as he sailed toward America in 1777, ready to join the ranks of the Americans in the fight for their freedom. The final lines of the piece bring together the French phrase “Vive Lafayette! Vive la Liberté!” and “Humanity and Liberty!” to symbolize Lafayette’s universal belief in liberty.
Lafayette was a hero to the people during his lifetime, and in honoring him through this piece I hope that we will continue to recognize his dedication to freedom and to follow in his footsteps.
Vive Lafayette! Vive la Liberté!
Humanity and Liberty!
Humanity has won its battle.
Liberty now has a country.
America is destined to become
The safe and venerable asylum
of virtue, of honesty, of tolerance,
and of peaceful liberty.
Vive Lafayette! Vive la Liberté!
Humanity and Liberty!
– Text compiled by Jenni Brandon
A Universal Dream for SSAA choir, djembe, and piano
The 2010 SSN Festival, hosted by Artemis Singers, took place from Thursday, July 1 and continued through Sunday, July 4. The event took place at Loyola University Chicago – Lake Shore Campus.
From the premiere with Jenni conducting and Stephanie Larenas on piano with Jennifer Vannell on Djembe.
The text of A Universal Dream comes from several sources. In putting together the text for this piece I wanted to express a universal message of liberty and freedom. This very idea is what Jane Addams herself wished for the people who came to the Hull-House in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century. These people were looking for a better life, a chance to be heard, and the very rights promised to them under the Constitution of the United States. Addams provided this opportunity through combining social justice ideals with opportunities for working-class citizens that included education classes for children and adults.
Meta Hellman, a member of the Sister Singers Network, wrote some lovely text inspired by Jane Addams’ speeches and writings. I took some of Meta’s text and combined it with text from the preamble of the Constitution. I felt that Jane Addams own words and the words from this great document could be combined to express this idea of liberty and equality.
At the end of the piece a descant line enters with words in different languages that mean “liberty” or “freedom.” There were so many immigrants in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, and I thought it fitting to honor the rights they fought to create for the generations to come by letting their own languages be heard in the final moments of the piece.
This piece was commissioned by the Sister Singers Network and will be premiered on July 4th, 2010 – a very fitting day to sing a piece that speaks of liberty and freedom for all. -JB
Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn
Commissioned by the women’s choir Sistrum under the direction of Meredith Bowen, I had the privilege to compose Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn for an incredibly diverse and lovely group of women to premiere. In creating this work I had the simple yet beautiful imagery of the poetry by author Kris Radish which was chosen by the women of Sistrum. Her words absolutely lend themselves to tone painting, and I tried to match my musical brush strokes with the bold colors in Kris’ poetry.In “the dark line” the imagery of night blending with day lends itself to the choir’s opening, gentle lines that eventually give way to the final powerful a cappella line “bright moon, golden night, you have become my new season,” giving hope for love.One particular line of Kris’ poems that I love comes from “morning prayer.” It is: “dark windows, kitchen sounds, laughter, near the chair…” I love this idea of being up early in the morning before everyone else, but being in room that has been and will be filled with voices and daily activities. I wanted to let the choir reflect this idea through a freely sung section where all of the voices – past, present, and future – mix and intertwine with each other all at once.It was very important to me that this work to reflect the unique and lovely women of Sistrum. I wanted to give them all a chance to dance in the final title movement. I felt that the addition of a hand drum would bring
together that primal instinct to dance and celebrate and to join together in harmony.
Listen to examples from Sistrum’s CD Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, released in 2010 on Blue Griffin Recording, Inc.
We Are Home for SSAA, percussion, piano
Vox Femina Los Angeles commissioned We Are Home under the direction of Dr. Iris Levine. Iris approached me to write this piece to fit onto their themed concert “Half the Sky: Hear Our Voices,” and in particular to fit the section of the concert that spoke of “Home.” Because this would be a very personal piece for Vox, I asked Iris to have the women write me stories, poems, haikus, and anything else that helped them describe what “home” meant to them in singing with Vox. What I got was an incredible collection of texts, written from the heart, about their experiences and the joy that came from being a part of this singing community. I began to take phrases, words, and ideas from these texts and draw them together to create the text that is used in this piece. Although I wrote the final text, it is a compilation of the voices of these women. More universally, however, I believe that this piece reflects what it means to be a part of a community – to share something important and to come “home.”
The premiere of this work took place on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles, California. It was an honor to write this piece for Iris and the women of Vox.
We Are Home
Text and inspiration by the Women of Vox Femina
Compiled and arranged by Jenni Brandon
Singing for the soul and songs our mothers taught us.
Dancing in between passion, love, and empathy.
Finding comfort in things
far more vast and eternal than us,
We are everything possible.
Impassioned, thoughtful, kind, and strong,
Woman, friend, chosen sisters.
A kaleidoscope of women’s voices
Offering serenity and comfort,
We are home.
A safe haven,
Refuge from the outside world.
SATB a cappella
At Night for SATB a cappella
Amy Lowell’s poem At Night speaks of the wind singing through the trees and the excitement of the wild wind. The voices imitate this idea of the wind at the beginning and end of the piece through freely-sung sections. Much of the piece contains this feeling of joyful freedom, from the dance-like section of “with delight she listens to the booming of the seas” to the “wild, tumultuous joy” that grows and builds with excitement. When the voices come together to exclaim “And my mind, O Star! is filled with your white light,” we feel the true wonder of a hot July night and the freedom to enjoy the onward sweeping wind.This piece was selected as the recipient of the 2008 Sorel Medallion and was premiered in Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall by Voices of Ascension under the direction of Dennis Keene on October 29th.
Voices of Ascension. Dennis Keene – director
Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall – October 29th, 2008
Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
The wind is singing through the trees to-night,
A deep-voiced song of rushing cadences
And crashing intervals. No summer breeze
Is this, though hot July is at its height,
Gone is her gentler music; with delight
She listens to this booming like the seas,
These elemental, loud necessities
Which call to her to answer their swift might.
Above the tossing trees shines down a star,
Quietly bright; this wild, tumultuous joy
Quickens nor dims its splendour. And my mind,
O Star! Is filled with your white light, from far,
So suffer me this one night to enjoy
The freedom of the onward sweeping wind.
The Giver of Stars for SATB a cappella
Amy Lowell’s(1874-1928) poem The Giver of Stars speaks of joy and pleasure, and I wanted to express both the quiet reflection and grand excitement of these feelings within the work. At times the work moves forward joyfully, reveling in beauty, such as the section that begins “let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me.” And at other times it builds slowly towards a moment of arrival, such as towards the end of the piece when the voices overlap while singing “the beauty.” This section breaks into a free moment where all of the voices sing overlapping with their own rhythms and individual voices, representing an ecstatic joy and freedom of expression, and the sense of being overwhelmed by something too beautiful.Both the opening and the ending of The Giver of Stars is expansive and floating – I love the line “Hold your soul open” and thought that layering the text “Hold your Soul” would create this other-world feeling of vastness, of possibility, and the pure pleasure of being suspended in a dream-like state, allowing the word “open” to finally move the piece from dreams to earthly delights.
In selecting the text and particularly in setting the spaciousness of the opening of the piece, I kept in mind not only the amazing abilities of the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, but the openness of the performance space for the premiere.
Performed by Vox Reflexa
The Giver of Stars
Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.
Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.
– From Sword Blades and Poppy Seed
Poem is in the public domain
The Peace of Wild Things for SATB a capella
The Peace of Wild Things for SATB a cappella with text by Wendell Berry tells of finding solace in the natural world when life becomes complicated and worrisome.
Commissioned by the Brandywine Singers of Pennsylvania under the direction of Jonathan Kreamer for their 20th Anniversary, this work reflects on the majesty of nature and what it can offer us in troubled times.
Earth Grown Old for SATB and piano
This piece was commissioned in 2004 by the Irvine United Congregational Church Chancel Choir, Irvine, California for their annual December Advent concert. Led by Rob Istad, music director, the group wanted a piece with text that dealt with Mother Earth and nature. Christina Rossetti’s poem Advent was the perfect selection for this commission in that it not only speaks of the season for which the piece was commissioned, but also about Earth:
Earth grown old, yet still so green,
Deep beneath her crust of cold
Nurses fire unfelt, unseen:
Earth grown old.
We who live are quickly told:
Millions more lie hid between
Innter swathings of her fold.
When will fire break up her screen?
When will life burst thro’ her mould?
Earth, earth, earth, thy cold is keen,
Earth grown old
Listen to a sample here
Make Music Sweet for SATB and piano
The three poems in this piece come from James Joyce’s poetry collection Chamber Music. The lovely imagery of music along a river while “love wanders there,” a cool valley, and falling rain leave the listener with the sense of a quiet, hushed world full of love and longing. From the gentle sounds of fingers “straying upon an instrument” to the delicate raindrops at the beginning of “Rain has fallen all the day,” we are led into this dazzling world heavy with memories.
Movements two and three won the 2009 Choral Horizons New Music Reading Session competition sponsored by Graphite Publishing and The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists under the direction of Matthew Culloton. Movement one was written at the request of Mr. Culloton to complete the set.
Movement I – Love Wanders There
Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.
There’s music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.
All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.
Movement II – O cool is the valley now
O cool is the valley now
And there, love, will we go
For many a choir is singing now
Where Love did sometime go.
And hear you not the thrushes calling,
Calling us away?
O cool and pleasant is the valley
And there, love, will we stay.
Movement III – Rain has fallen all the day
Rain has fallen all the day.
O come among the laden trees:
The leaves lie thick upon the way
Staying a little by the way
Of memories shall we depart.
Come, my beloved, where I may
Speak to your heart.
From Chamber Music by James Joyce (1882-1941)
1907 Elkin Matthews
Poetry is in the public domain
SATB with piano and additional instruments
The Dark Hills for SATB, oboe, piano
The poetry of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson offers a beautiful picture of evening settling on the hills, or of the quiet that comes at that moment just before dark falls completely over the land…
The oboe’s voice in the piece represents not only the oncoming evening in the hills, but also the voice of the ‘old bones of warriors under ground.’ As the choir sings Arlington’s wonderful poem, the oboe weaves in and out of the texture, creating a voice of the ages. The addition of the simple but important piano accompaniment supports the voices of the choir and the oboe as they tell of the hope for the end of all wars.
Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones of warriors under ground,
Far now from all the bannered ways
Where flash the legions of the sun,
You fade – as if the last of days
Were fading, and all wars were done.
from The Three Taverns. New York: Macmillan 1920.
Work is in the public domain.
Performed by USC Recital Choir with Jennifer Johnson, oboe, and Cassie Nickols, piano, conducted by Seth Houston.
SATB with ensemble
Tonight a Stolen Moment for SATB, string quartet, percussion, piano
Duration approx. 8:30 Level: Intermediate/Advanced
This work is also available for SATB, percussion, and piano, and a version for chamber orchestra
Poem by Bobbi J. Nicotera. This work tells the story of an immigrant family displaced from their home and forced to move to a new land. With only the stars in the skies to keep their memories, they will add new memories as they embark on their new life.
This work was premiered by The Concert Singers.
We Are Joy