for SATB chorus
in 3 movements
Text by Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970)
Commissioned by Scott MacPherson for the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble
Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), a poet from Fort Atkinson, had a magical voice in evoking the people and the nature of Wisconsin. Her works using “condensery” language, in her own word, read like miniature paintings, reflecting her life living on Blackhawk Island. It is this visual nature and the intriguing sounds within her poetry that drew me to setting them into music.
“My mother saw the green tree toad” is a nostalgic recount of childhood. Beginning with simple, unadorned duet lines, the harmony swells and breathes with increasing complexity of emotion in the text. “My life by water” is a composite of images, as the poet recalled animals and objects she encountered near the river—spring frogs, board bridges, muskrats, rabbits, boats, birds, and floods. In the music, each phrase takes on the character of its subject to paint the picture. “From my bed I see” is a dreamy description of the pastoral Wisconsin night. Likewise the music is impressionistic and free-form; singers at times proceed in individual tempo and rhythm and at times come together, as if casting a spell to conjure a timeless night in the woody swamp.