the light that blurred the stars

5-song cycle for voice and string quartet with poetry by Susan Stewart

22'

2021

Commissioned by Spektral Quartet and Scrag Mountain Music

Premiere scheduled for January 29 & 30, VT

1. Field in Winter

2. The Knot

3. Piano Music for a Silent Movie

4. Man Dancing with a Baby

5. Cinder

the light that blurred the stars is a song cycle about human survival and renewal. It is scored for voice and string quartet and sets five poems by renowned American poet Susan Stewart.

 

In the first months of the pandemic, I felt a few fundamental truths of human existence were distilled and suspended atop my conscious awareness. One: the world is full of suffering and destruction borne of human folly. Another, complementary: humans create – solutions, technologies, new humans, stories, meaning – to survive. Life is still worth living, and the things that make it so worth contemplating and celebrating, however large or small, and however tinged our perception of them may be with the cynicism borne of living the first truth. I’m not the first person to articulate these ideas, nor the last – but I think it’s still worth affirming them (and making and experiencing art about them).

 

In those early months of the pandemic I also read through Cinder, Susan Stewart’s 2017 book of new and collected poems, and found these truths and their perpetual tensions with one another reverberating throughout the collection. As a composer, I was also drawn in by the poems’ abundant musicality – to read them was to hear their lines as melody, and to feel the ebb and flow of rhythmic energy across their forms. Susan graciously permitted me to set five poems which speak to these truths in unique but intersecting ways. Some find profundity in small, vivid moments of everyday life. Some expose the simultaneously creative and destructive results of human action. All link the course and events of human lives to other recurrent cycles of growth and decay, entangling us – and our actions – with day, season, non-human organism, ecosystem, epoch, cosmos. Together, my settings of these five poems respond to the last lines of the final song & poem, also titled "Cinder:" “Tell me, ravaged singer, / how the cinder bears the seed.”

 

Life is seed and cinder, wonder and regret, hope and despair, and around again. Wherever we each may be on the spiral path through these ever-present dualities, and whatever the journey has cost us, we’re still here, and we’re going to sing about it.