Duration: 16 min.
July 10th, 2016
St. Mark’s Episcopla Church, Austin, TX
Christa Tumlinson and Maureen Broy Papovich, sopranos & Nikki Birdsong, piano
1. Prologue: Creatures of the deep
2. The Camel
3. The Salamander
4. The Unicorn
5. The Beaver
6. The Manticore
7. The Whale
8. Epilogue: Nameless and named
Around 2009/2010 I was struck with the desire to compose a set of beast songs to Jeffery Beam’s poems. The connectivity that surrounds these songs, my connection to two artistic mentors, Lee Hoiby and Jeffery Beam, goes back much farther however. Lee Hoiby was a composer esteemed for his vocal music. In 2000, as an undergraduate vocal performance major, I got to know and love some of his works, so I reached out to him to learn more about his art songs. It was a short series of communications that fulfilled my curiosity at the time. By 2008, I had switched my musical focus: I found I had more to say as a composer than as a performer. I was writing a choral cantata for a World AIDS Day fundraiser and discovered a collection of poems by Jeffery Beam while looking for texts to set. I contacted Jeffery to obtain permission to set some of these poems, and he off-handedly mentioned that Lee Hoiby had used his poetry for a song cycle The Life of the Bee. This instigated my reconnection with Lee shortly afterward and our artistic relationship was revived. From 2008 until his death in 2011, Lee and I communicated through letters (snail mail). He let me share the vocal music I was writing, and he was generous with encouraging words about my music and with scores and recordings of his own music that he thought would instruct me as a budding composer. As for Jeffery and his poetry, his texts have inspired three works of mine now: the choral cantata Heaven’s Birds: Lament and Song, a tone poem titled An Invocation recently premiered by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, and now this song cycle.
The Creatures: a bestiary retold was written at the request of Maureen Broy Papovich, the soprano who performed the role of Amaranth in my one-act opera Thyrsis and Amaranth with One Ounce Opera in Austin, TX. Maureen was performing in a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Central Texas and asked if I had any songs that fit their theme, animals. I jumped at the chance to write these creature songs and am grateful to Maureen for the opportunity.