Settings of three texts about stars by American poets Sara Teasdale, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman. Video above is by Dr. Ron Staheli and the renowned BYU Singers, spring 2013.
*Note that movement II, “Lightly Stepped A Yellow Star,” is now available as a separate octavo from Hinshaw.
Total performance time c. 15-16 minutes.
I. Stars (Sara Teasdale) c. 6:00
II. Lightly Stepped A Yellow Star (Emily Dickinson) c. 4:00
III. …Thou Motive of the stars (Walt Whitman) c. 4:30
See below for Program Note, and Percussion Ensemble information.
(May be freely copied for use in programs, papers, etc.)
A commission for a piece for chorus and percussion ensemble came at a perfect time for me, when I had been marveling at the night skies on the plains of Kansas. I chose three texts about stars which were penned by different authors in diverse styles, but which all expressed a sense of wonder at the night sky.
The first movement, “Stars”, opens up sonic space as a way to paint the expanse of the heavens. A mysterious and almost exotic introduction gives way to a burst of color and dynamic, as the stars appear over the treetops. A contrasting middle section of the poem provides opportunity for a fiery B section, before the “stars” idea returns at the end.
The second movement, “Lightly stepped a yellow star”, paints its wonderful text with staccato singing in an additive contrapuntal texture. Again, a middle section provides contrast; but this time, the contrast is velvety and ethereal, with hints of the energetic first section popping up between phrases. The A section then returns, leading up to the one-word “punchline” of the poem- “punctual”. To further paint the “time” element, the music provides several allusions to clock-work, including a machine-like “cogs and gears” feeling, and even a veiled quote of Big Ben!
The third movement, “…Thou motive of the stars”, is the most majestic and declamatory of the set, building to the overwhelming chorale-style setting of the title line. Near the end, the mysterious silence of the opening bars of the whole set returns, and the set ends with the “stars” theme from the first movement.
Percussion Ensemble Information:
Instrumentation: (can be a bit flexible if needed)
- Crotales (1 octave) (+bow, preferably double bass)
- Vibraphone (+bow, preferably double bass)
- Chimes (rawhide mallets preferred)
- Triangle (preferably a very sweet 4”; a second triangle may be useful as well)
- Finger Cymbals (a second cymbal or pair may be useful)
- Tambourine (a second tambourine may be useful)
- Bell Tree
- Temple Blocks (3)
- Suspended Cymbal (soft mallets, plus wire brush and coin)
- Bass Drum
- Celesta (or Keyboard with quality synthesized or sampled celesta sound)
General percussion setup (of primary instruments for each player):
- Player 1: Crotales, Glockenspiel, Chimes, Xylophone
- Player 2: Vibes, Tambourine
- Player 3: Sus. Cym., Tam-Tam, Triangle, Wind Chimes, Xylophone
- Player 4: Bass Drum, Timpani
- Pianist: also plays Celesta or Keyboard
Instruments are shared in a few places, to achieve maximum variety of timbral combinations:
- The xylophone is fairly evenly shared between players 1 (first movement) and 3 (second movement), so place it accordingly. Also, mount a triangle near it since player 3 switches between tgl. and xylo. frequently in the second movement.
- The glockenspiel (usually player 1) is shared with player 3 at the end of the first and third movements. Allow quick access for player 3 to the glockenspiel.
- Similarly, the chimes (player 1 in second movement and early third movement) are shared with player 3 later in the third movement. Allow quick access for player 3 to the chimes.
- Suspended Cymbal (usually player 3) is played by player 4 twice in the second movement. This shouldn’t be difficult since sufficient time is allowed both times. If a second suspended cymbal is available, it could be used.
- Players 1 and 2 play tambourine in the second movement. (If available, use a second tambourine.)
- Players 3 and 4 play finger cymbals in the second movement. (If available, use a second cymbal or set of cymbals.)
Tags: Major Work, Professional/Collegiate Repertoire