aurora

ensemble SATB
duration ~4:45
listen on soundcloud
score PDF, 127KB
performance history 04/16/2013 by ASM and Opera On Tap’s New Brew (A S M: A Ca Pe La)
date completed 08/11/2013
era reflective

background

“aurora” came from two separate sketches that sat on my sketch pad for years. It was two measures (the B section melody) and five measures (the basis of the A section melody’s first two bars). That was it.

But unlike recent previous pieces, I had an idea. Our first child was about to be born, and everything was getting hectic. I didn’t know what was coming, I didn’t know how my life would change, and I didn’t know if I’d ever play or write music again. So in a way, the idea for this song was an elegy for my “previous life” (getting married and having children was something I had pretty much ruled out until they happened). But by far the biggest change was the burden of other people: when you’re single, the emotional demands are a lot less, and your time is your own. Increasingly, that was not the case for me, and I knew that once our child was born, it would absolutely not be the case. The days of me living in my little house by myself and waking up with the sunrise, with no alarm clock – those days were numbered. This piece is about the fleeting moments between asleep and awake when there are still no cares and the wave of thoughts about the day to come has yet to crest and crash onto your consciousness.

However, I’d only written for choral groups once before, and the results were mixed. Picking up writing for this kind of ensemble after... twenty years was bound to be intimidating. But it turned out to be easier than I expected.

This is one of the rare times I wrote words with the music (instead of putting words to music, or putting music to words). I wrote both as I went. The structure of the piece—as well as the title—didn’t coalesce until I wrote the transition music that supports the phrase “hold, hold...” That I-IV progression, for some reason, freed me from whatever struggle I was in harmonically. The piece flowed easily after that, with the crescendo at rehearsal letter C anchoring the entire work. Harmonically, it’s a simple piece that’s made to sound more complex (and harder on the singers) by splitting parts and adding seconds, fourths, ninths into otherwise pedestrian triads (not for nothing, but for added color) – this can admittedly make it difficult on the performers. The only challenge for the listener is an extremely abrupt modulation up a fourth at measure 42, and its correspondingly short return seven measures later. I pored over the modulation for a very, very long time, because it is very sudden; but each time I tried to set it up or soften it more, it lost the flow. Ultimately, I left it as it was originally written, following the idea that you’re done composing when anything you try to do makes it sound worse.

There is one last interesting bit about this piece: I try to write on paper. It’s sloppy, but it’s fast, and I like having that in my hands prior to the computer-notated score. I drew myself an outline between all the sketches for this, and then started to sew them together (with the words). But about halfway through the piece (measure 39), I stopped. I switched to Finale, and finished writing the piece on the computer. I felt like the musical ideas were coming too fast for me to hold onto them, so I wanted to commit them to the finished form immediately. I’m pretty sure this is the only piece I’ve finished composing while in the notation phase.

This is probably the best piece I’ve written. It was humbling to have ASM choose it as the set closer for the one time it was performed, as I felt like this piece (more than any other) achieved what I wanted without trying too hard to do so. I didn’t set out to make it weird for ASM, I didn’t try to make it too easy to listen to for the audience; I just followed the idea to completion, and tried to not let go of the piece’s own aesthetic. If my compositional style has a “sound,” this piece is probably it.

It was performed admirably by Kayleigh Butcher, Seth Gilman, David Gordon, Alex Guerrero, Anne Hiatt, Kamala Sankaram, Delea Shand, Jeff Hudgins, Pat Muchmore, and Ed RosenBerg. The lyrics are below.

aurora

in the morning, when you wake
and you know not time or place
all is beauty, there is no past

ev’ry soul has no shadow
ev’ry touch is all there is
live in this moment, live, live

hold, hold, let me stay, aurora

free of regret
free of neglect
free to forget yourself

no more I will mourn or cry,
nor will I long for the stars in the sky
never wicked or hateful and I
never again will be sullen or shy

slow, slow, stay with me, aurora

never ashamed of the things I have done,
thoughts I have had, what my life has become
never disgraced by decisions I’ve made,
never inferior, never betrayed

aurora! aurora! don’t leave me! don’t go!

free of regret
free of neglect
free to forget yourself

no redemption,
vindication,
absolution

gone
gone
gone