commissioned by the Gabe Wiener Foundation
for Judy Clurman
SATB, String Quartet, Percussion, Organ, 25'
1. I Hear
2. Interlude (A Farm Picture)
3. Poets to Come
Expecting the Main Things from You begins with a series of exchanges between the choir and ensemble, defining the harmonic progressions that make up the first movement. Throughout the beginning 9-minute movement, the ensemble plays pattern music while the voices sing lines above it ““ a very explicit accompaniment/solo relationship during which the choir describes men at work. A third of the way through, a solo violin begins outlining a series of chords through arpeggiation, which then gradually fill in and become a single shimmering chord. From this, the choir begins the second part of the poem, beginning with the line “The delicious singing of the mother” and ending in the far distance, listening to the “strong melodious songs.” Each movement of Expecting ends with a series of wordless pulses, a sort of musical punctuation. If the first and third poems reference the political urgency of the city, the second movement is a pastoral interlude. Accordingly, the percussion parts in this movement are built around three expanding and contracting rhythms in the woodblock, tam-tam, and vibraphone. Three quarters of the choir sings a stylized Morse code (I was inspired by watching satellites pass overhead in the middle of the woods in Vermont; the now-omnipresent invisible haze of technology even in the fields), while some sopranos and altos overlay long, endless lines. The third movement is the most urgent and the most aggressive in its patterns: I wanted to reinforce Whitman’s movement from the general to the very specific and accusatory second person of the end of the poem. A series of expanding and contracting rhythms and another wordless pulse brings the piece to a quiet close. – Nico Muhly
All instruments, or no instruments, should be amplified. In the second movement, the choir and the cello are asked to perform a sort of Morse Code tremolo. This should be executed by each musician randomizing a pattern of short and long notes on the indicated pitch. The choir should sing on syllables doo or da depending. All effort should be made not to coordinate with any other musician. The resulting effect should be random and almost electronic. Take breaths whenever you need but the sound should be as continuous as possible.
All text-less music in the choir should be sung at a dynamic such that it blends equally with the strings, percussion, and organ.
Texts (all from Leaves of Grass)
1. PART ONE I Hear
I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics””each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat””the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench””the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song””the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother””or of the young wife at work””or of the girl sewing or washing””Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day””At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
Â· No. 91
2. INTERLUDE A Farm-Picture
THROUGH the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sun-lit pasture field, with cattle and horses feeding;
And haze, and vista, and the far horizon, fading away.
Â· No. 93
3. PART TWO Poets to Come
POETS to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me, and answer what I am for;
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,
Arouse! Arouse””for you must justify me””you must answer.
I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
but advance a moment, only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.
I am a man who, sauntering along, without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you, and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.
Â· No. 90