Soul Journey - Three Whitman Songs (2014)
for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano
Text: Walt Whitman
Duration: 14 minutes
Commission: Abiquiu Chamber Music Festival
Premiere: Phyllis Pancella, Mezzo-Soprano and Shields-Collins Bray, piano,
July 10, 2016, Abiquiu Chamber Music Festival, New Mexico
Text from Leaves of Grass
I. Grand Is the Seen
Grand is the seen, the light, to me - grand are the sky and stars,
Grand is the earth, and grand are lasting time and space,
And grand their laws, so multiform, puzzling, evolutionary;
But grander far the unseen soul of me, comprehending, endowing all those,
Lighting the light, the sky and stars, delving the earth, sailing the sea,
(What were all those, indeed, without thee, unseen soul? of what
amount without thee?)
More evolutionary, vast, puzzling, O my soul!
More multiform far-more lasting thou than they.
II. I swear I think (from “To Think of Time”)
I swear I think now that every thing without exception has an eternal soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is for it!
And all preparation is for it—and identity is for it—and life and materials are altogether for it!
III. Darest thou now, O Soul
Darest thou now, O Soul,
Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,
Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?
No map, there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not, O Soul;
Nor dost thou—all is a blank before us;
All waits, undream’d of, in that region—that inaccessible land.
Till, when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds, bound us.
Then we burst forth—we float,
In Time and Space, O Soul—prepared for them;
Equal, equipt at last—(O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil, O Soul.
The moment I read Whitman’s poem Grand is the Seen, I knew I had to set these beautiful words to music. A soundworld arose immediately and as I was getting deeper into the writing process, the music flowed freely, as if Whitman’s words themselves already had the music embedded in them and all I had to do was tap into the energy of it all. At times it felt truly magical and mysterious!
After finishing the first song and hearing the wonderful premiere by Mezzo Soprano Virginia Dupuy and pianist Shields-Collins Bray at the Abiquiu Chamber Music Festival in New Mexico, I realized I was not quite ready to let go of Whitman’s words. I discovered two more wonderful poems from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that, although written at different times, seemed to belong together with Grand is the Seen to form a cycle. For me, these three poems create a beautiful journey, a journey of the soul from awakening to awareness to transcendence.
Soul Journey – Three Whitman Songs (2014) was commissioned by the Abiquiu Chamber Music Festival.