Empowering Silenced Voices
Program Notes/CD Liner Notes

Hello, World!


Walt Whitman is, perhaps, the origin of the American poetic voice. His words resound strongly and universally. What I find most appealing about his poetry is how he enters - so easily - into the contemplative mode of which "A Clear Midnight" is a shining example. I seek to enhance this mode with my choice of harmonies and to give further clarity to the words which so inspired their selection. But Whitman was a committed humanist and despite his proclivity to turn inward he experienced a desire to serve and assist those around him. I can only aspire towards this same goal and hope that my music can bring others some comfort and reprieve.

Justice is an absolute, whether it take the form of social, political, or civil. I can only hope that I've given some justice to Whitman's words that express this as well.

-Thomas Schuttenhelm, 2015

A.I.: All-Inclusive, Orga vs. Mecha

Technology, the ever changing and morphing scientific frontier. A.I.: Orga vs. Mecha reflects the very current state of life with devices and clever virtual assistants. It delves into the reality that we are flesh and bone, but have electricity running through our every synapse. Our brains build and forge new territories on the technological front every day while we surf, swipe, and stare at one screen to the next. From a compositional stand point, this piece stands as a stark reminder of some of the off-kilter and disjointed parts of our integration into this brave new world--at times scary, mechanical, repetitive and sweet--all wrapped in one. This work embraces sonic colors and rhythms that overlap in a tapestry of sounds to emulate the ever present electrical current. At the end, however, it delves into how we must co-exist and welcome Orga into Mecha. 

In this piece, I take the opportunity to comment on the current state of our humanity. I think the very overt idea of welcoming that which is not ourselves into our everyday existence is echoed in the text and the music of the piece. Whether gay, straight, white, black, religious, atheist, organic or mechanical, we all must figure out some way to peacefully coexist and learn from all that is around us, even if we are watching a continual evolution of both the organic and mechanical worlds, together. My hope is this addresses a universal call for peaceful coexistence.

-Jerome Kurtenbach, 2016

Blue Phoenix

Blue Phoenix is part of my long-term project called Axis of Beauty -- a now decade-long creative response to the George W. Bush administration's "Axis of Evil" wartime propaganda -- which has introduced western audiences to many texts by living Middle Eastern poets, journalists, and everyday citizens, via twelve different pieces and cycles so far.  In 2005 I listened to every episode of the student-run War News Radio podcast (among other sources of direct interviews with Iraqis experiencing the U.S. occupation) and this text leaped out as one of the most important to me.

-Kala Pierson, 2015

Canticles For the Holy Innocents

In memoriam
Lydia Charity Schatz (2002–2010)

LYDIA (KOKO) SCHATZ was born in Liberia and adopted by a family in Paradise, California. Her adoptive parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, followed the doctrines of a preacher named Michael Pearl. Pearl teaches that children’s so-called rebellious wills must be broken by repeated corporal punishment with a quarter-inch plumbing supply line. When Lydia mispronounced a word, this was seen as a sign of rebellion. Following Pearl’s doctrine, the Schatzes whipped her for seven hours, taking breaks for prayer. This resulted in her death from kidney failure a day later, on February 6, 2010. She was seven years old. After Lydia’s murder, Michael Pearl wrote that in response to his critics, he laughed.

Canticles for the Holy Innocents is dedicated to the memory of Lydia Schatz, though it is also for the thousands of children who die each year as a result of violence and abuse. Like the Holy Innocents killed by Herod, these children hold a place of special honor and special sorrow in the Christian faith. The texts are taken from early Latin hymns and prayers, used in liturgy to commemorate their martyrdom. The musical setting blends adaptations of late medieval polyphony with modern harmonic techniques to evoke a timeless sense of consolation.

-Eric Pazdziora, 2015

Come Up From the Fields

The text is one of the most powerful of Whitman's poems.  The juxtaposition of the landscape beauty and normal life with the horrors of war was the genesis of wanting to write the piece.  The compositional technique I use is motivic and organic in nature, combining polyphony and homophony. I tie the structure closely to the poem, and I use some text painting.

The power of the text shows the horror of war in contrast to the beauty of life and creation.  The composition is, for me, a powerful statement for the avoidance of war, particularly because of the profound effect and large reach of war on ordinary life.  This work is a visceral exposure to the cost of conflict, to extreme loss.

-Rev. C.G. Walden, III

Dipuku Rauda (Lament of the displaced)

Dipukų Rauda (Displaced Persons' Lament),  is a standalone work excerpted from the first scene of Act I of the two-act opera Julius, written in 2009 and premiered in March 2010. The entire opera was inspired by the composer's grandfather's experience as a displaced person. In the opera production, set during World War II, the chorus is made up of DPs (Displaced Persons) of different Eastern European origin, crammed together into a train car. Despite the diverse makeup of the group, they all flee the same danger, are uncertain about their future, and share the same feelings of fear and anxiety. The first line of the Lithuanian text, its hard consonants emphasized to give the illusion of a speeding train, is repeated and staggered among various sections of the chorus throughout the work. The full text deals with fleeing one's home in the face of danger and into uncertainty.

While this piece is connected specifically to Eastern European refugees who fled Soviet occupation during and after WWII, it also connects broadly with general refugee experience. Given the refugee crises around the world today, the piece has the potential to draw attention to the refugee's plight at a time when action is crucial--when they most need help. Given America's own history as a country full of individuals and families searching for a new home, I hope the piece will be relevant to almost everyone who hears it. I hope this piece will open and sustain meaningful dialogue in empathy with and support of the plight of refugees.

-Charles Halka, 2016

Do You Hear How Many You Are?

“Do You Hear How Many You Are?” for SATB choir was written in April and May of 2010. The origins of this piece and text come from a very interesting experience I had in December of 2009. I have been learning a lot in the past few years about the state of our world and the many huge problems and crises we are faced with in the near future, and this discovery has been so daunting and overwhelming to
me. So much change needs to happen in order for the near and longterm future of our world to be just and stable that I have felt a lot of
guilt over my choice of profession. Why have I chosen to be a composer and musician when I could make more of an impact on solving these problems if I were a scientist or policy maker etc.? I have been struggling to find a solution to this dilemma for a while now and I just happened to be thinking about it, while filled with lots of stress and worries, one night as I was falling asleep in December of 2009. At the moment when I was in that state halfway between sleep and consciousness, I suddenly heard the line “Do you hear how many you are?” in my head, yet I felt as though I didn't come up with the line but that it was said TO me. I was instantly comforted, as if a load fell off my shoulders, and then I began to hear it being sung, which I knew was the beginning of a choral piece. I woke up, wrote down the
music I was hearing (about the first six measures of the work) and then wrote down this entire poem. I truly feel that this message came
to me for a reason, and that I need to share it through the music I create. Those of us who want to change the world for the better are
not alone; we are many and we will make our voices hear in order to heal the world.

-Keane Southard, 2010


Evening was inspired by the performances of works by young South African composers by the Horizons Project Choir in May 2015. The poem by American poet H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) describes the passing of light and how it affects various elements in nature. The work attempts to illustrate how these various elements of nature are affected by the passing of light. The poem speaks about light being caught through flowers, leaves, petals and tress, ambivalently coating the foliage before falling to darkness. The use of various extended vocal techniques suggests lights' mysterious and poignant qualities, as caught through the different perspectives. As the work's form makes use of multi-temporal sections, the piece embodies the movement of light, and in conjunction with the colours evoked within the choral harmony, suggests a kaleidoscopic representation of light's movement and energy.

On a microscopic level, the poetry can be seen as a simple description of nature: the evening light fading through various foliage until the entire scene is engrossed in darkness. Evening seeks to portray this engrossment as a change in an individual's mindset: from blissful ignorance to cognizance. This transition allows a typical, almost kitsch beauty scene--a sunset--to get swallowed by darkness, enabling the scene to gain a mysterious, genuine new beauty.

The composition attempts to promote a fairly unknown idealistic American poet, by illustrating the images of hope and growth described in the poem, using musical elements. The idea of light growing and being lost identifies how the 'light' of social issues such as rape, racism and abuse are lost to more topical, trivial matters. The composition tries to show how important these matters are, by directly evoking images of light and freedom--paralleled with the aforementioned topics of social issues and discrimination.

-Conrad Asman, 2016


Walt Whitman's poem, "In Midnight Sleep,” left a mark in the back of my mind from the time I first came across it many years ago. I had always desired to set the text to music, but it never quite came out right. In 2014, a series of events occurred regarding police brutality and the subsequent deaths of civilians. These events caused many protests and a violent uproar from this nation's people. Riots erupted across the country and it seemed as if our society was being ripped apart at the seams. Whitman had the misfortune of witnessing the seams come apart in his own time. Having served as a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War, this poem is a reflection of his thoughts and what he saw during a period of unrest. While my mind was troubled with the events surrounding Ferguson and Eric Garner, this text came back to me as if it were a vision. In this vision, I saw people that I knew and loved waging war against one another. Senseless violence surrounded me, and it was then that this poem truly spoke to me.

My work, In Midnight Sleep, is a direct response to the social injustices revolving around Ferguson and Baltimore. The riots that took place had a strong effect on me and I felt called to respond in the best manner I could. Choral music can be an evocative vessel for messages that are important to contemporary society. My goal is to exploit the advantages of a choir in order to promote awareness to important social commentaries.

-Andrew Rodriguez, 2015


Poet Naomi Shihab Nye marks out the physical and emotional effects of terrorism with people— first graders, mothers, friends; with everyday objects— kettles, apples, glasses of water; with locations— Texas, Turkey, Syria. She captures with these everyday words just how alarmingly common, even mundane, news of terrorism has become to us. Her text and my musical setting are understated and all lead toward one word that offers hope in a world so torn apart, “together.”

I stumbled across Nye’s poetry shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and saw that the pain, fear, and loss that many Americans were feeling was not unique to us. Though it was new to me, tragedies like that had been part of the daily lives of millions in the Middle East for generations. The bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, and the 8 year old boy, Martin Richard, who was killed by the explosions brought to mind the boy in Nye’s poem. The middle movement of Like a Darling was written in 2013 shortly after the Boston Marathon Bombing. I have many friends and colleagues in Boston from my time there in grad school. A couple dear singer-friends were running in the marathon that year, and another life-long friend was volunteering in the first aid tent like he does every year. Seeing the events unfold on television brought back the fear and helplessness that I felt while watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. I responded to these powerless feelings in the only way I know how, with music. I returned to Nye’s poem in the fall of 2015 with the thought of completing the cycle. I had finished the third poem in early November and was working on setting the first poem when terrorists attacked Paris.

I can recall news of terrorism throughout my life: the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Oklahoma City, 9/11— politics, fear, and difference tearing people apart. I’m not sure if this will ever change, but I think Naomi Shihab Nye is onto something when she prompts us to consider just one word— together. 

The text for this work is the poetic triptych titled “Darling” from Fuel , a collection of poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye published by Boa Editions, Ltd., Rochester, NY, 1998. Used here with the kind permission of the author.

-Steven Serpa, 2016


-Jose Luis Gómez Aleixandre, 2011

Maa Kantaa, Ihminen Kaivaa (Earth Carries, Man Digs)

The poetry of Maa kantaa expresses wonder how earth supports the weight and penetration of all of nature's heavy stones, trees, and water in addition to all that humanity continues to do as it leaves its mark by way of our buildings, tools, and weapons. Somehow the earth kindly preserves what we leave behind and future generations dig up these things from deep in the ground. In Ihminen kaivaa, the composer used a list from the Turku Libraries yard, which itemizes what archeologists found in a dig. The alto and tenor voices list the materials that have been excavated (soil, sand, earth, crushed brick, lumps of mortar, clay, crushed brick, etc.) and form an accompaniment for the bass and soprano counterpoint, which lists and describe the conditions of the human artifacts that were discovered in the dig.

Exploring this music and these texts helps us to reflect on the importance of the earth and our impact on the earth. This piece also reflects on the fact that all humans are equal, regardless of time, race, society, culture, or place in history. We all return to dust; life is short. Future generations will be affected by our lives and the impact we have on our earth.

-Jeremiah Selvey, 2016

Out of Her Place

Out of Her Place was commissioned by Choral Chameleon for a concert celebrating women's history. I chose a text by the iconic advocate Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), drawn to her direct style and the fact that she was interested in equality for everyone, not only for women. Her words seemed particularly relevant to people today: we all have to make decisions regarding when to conform to others’ expectations and when to “strike out alone” and do what we feel we must. I included lines from her letters, set for a solo soprano, to show that these decisions are not without consequences, that opposing society's conventions often involves considerable sacrifice and isolation. I was very conscious of the fact that she did not live to see universal suffrage, despite 50 years of work toward that goal; I tried to balance that awareness with an awe for her perseverance, and the power of advocates to change public opinion and political realities. 

This work deals with the struggle for political and social equality; its scope is not limited to women's rights. For example, Empire City Chorus included this piece on their  "A More Perfect Union" concerts bringing attention to LGBT rights. I hope it can be effective promoting social justice in many contexts.

-Rebekah Driscoll, 2015


Reconciliation was written for the inaugural year of the "Big Sky Choral Initiative" in Big Sky, Montana, and was premiered at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on July 25, 2015. It was written for Donald Nally and his Philadelphia based choir The Crossing, who were the artists in residence for the program. Tonight's performance marks the second performance and West Coast Premiere.

"Reconciliation" by Walt Whitman, is a poem in Drum-Taps, which is part of the Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Drum-Taps deals mostly with Whitman's experience in the Civil War, and "Reconciliation" itself, deals with the the aftermath. When I read this text, I was struck by the second half of the poem, how it personalized war, showing us that, even if someone is our enemy, to remember they are still human beings, and their life is just as important as your own. It reminded me of the way our world currently is, divided by ideology, skin color, religion etc. This poem serves as a reminder that no matter what our differences are, we must remember to put those differences aside, especially if those differences are leading to violence and death. Whitman's call for peace, and that war should always be the last resort, resonates deeply with me and the way I view our world, and this piece was written in response to it. 

I rarely write a piece to serve a social purpose, but I feel this piece touches on the ideas of equality of all people, and on the liberal values that I hold so dearly. It calls on us to remember that no matter what differences we have, violence and death should not be the answer, because at the center of all of us, is a human life, and a life that should never be wasted because of ideological differences.

-Michael R. Smith, 2016


This text and music is inspired by Eduardo Galeano, an author that has discussed 500 years of dispossession in Central and South America. The text, authored by the composer, specifically addresses the history of the exploitative nature of European conquistadors and explorers for precious resources, such as gold, silver, and iron--even to the point that they would kill the natives and abolish their cultures for the sake of personal advantage. After  500 years of conquest and sacking their natural resources, national leaders in South America are beginning to rejuvenate these countries--both politically and culturally.  With regards to the musical composition, Argentinian composer Olano used musical elements from his town's folkloric traditions.

-Jeremiah Selvey, 2016


This piece was commissioned by an LGBT choir attempting to address the lack of choral music which uses LGBT-related texts. Even though there are many pieces written by LGBT composers, traditional texts are usually used rather than ones they felt they could connect to. For this reason, I selected a text by ancient Greek poet Sappho who was born on island of Lesbos.

The text by Sappho contains so much energy, drive and emotion, which made it an excellent choice to set to music. Whilst we have no record of how Sappho set her texts to music on the Greek island of Lesbos in 600BC, I feel fortunate that we at least have record of these inspiring words. I have reinterpreted this text in a contemporary choral idiom which I feel has the power to move listeners today. This piece explores a range of vocal and colouristic effects to reflect the energy, beauty and passion within this text. I contrast fast lines with lyrical duets in the upper voices, as I create expansive sound worlds by combining singing alongside effects such as whistling and chord clusters.

-Alexander Campkin, 2014