100 Poems

Those who know my work will tell you that my fascination with the poetry of E. E. Cummings has been one of the driving forces behind my output. In 2006, I purchased a small collection of Cummings’ work and was immediately taken by both his avant-gardism and his tenderness. One poem in particular struck me as being possibly well-suited for the application of my compositional treatment: “Early Summer Sketch.”

The rain
Drips down
O’er fields
All green
With grain.

Earth’s gown
Is seen
Clinging
To her
In folds
Bedraggled.

The grey
Sky yields
Great drops
Down-winging
O’er tops
Of fir
And wolds
Green-gay
With Summer,
The new-comer.

For sod
Has haggled
With sky.

The tears
Fall fast
On high.

Aghast
And Dazed
Earth stands,
And lifts
Her hands,
To see
The wrong
Which she
Has done.

The sun
Breaks out
And sears
The drifts
Of cloud
That float
Along.

The shroud
No longer
Low-lies.

The note
Of the song
Of the bird
Is heard.

The cloud
Is furled.

Earth cries
A shout
Of gladness.

O’er skies,
And trees,
And leaf,
And leas
Of bay
Breaks day.

At about the same time, I was heavily involved in A Capella singing, specifically the madrigal style. I was singing bass in such a group at my high school. When we performed, we dressed up in full Renaissance garb; I wore felt booties, a large purple frock, tights, and an oversize hat with a plume. My head was filled with this idea that voices, only voices, could accomplish anything: texturally, timbrally, polyphonically, contrapuntally. And so a sat down and composed what would become the last work in a series of ten text-settings now known as Ten Poems by E. E. Cummings. After the writing of Ten Poems I knew this project of mine was meant to be larger, more grand, all-encompassing. So I told myself that I would make it my life’s work to set all of Cummings’ poetry, over 750 poems.

That was 8 years ago. More than 50 poems later, I found myself at a crossroads. At the rate I’d been going, I’d finish at the age of 125. Something had to change, namely, my progress. So on January 1 of this year, I made a resolution. (I don’t take resolutions lightly. Last year, I’d resolved to write at least 20 songs [my solo music], and did just that.) I would set 100 poems in 2014. That’s a rate of about 8 per month. A month-and-a-half into the year, I’ve written 9 works. Admittedly, February has been very busy and I haven’t written as much music as would like (and need). Nevertheless, I don’t see why I wouldn’t complete this task.

If I have one concern, it’s that I worry about my ability to keep these pieces sounding fresh, to not repeat myself too much. Thus far, the works have all been orchestrated differently and that alone has given me new inspiration each time I’ve sat down to write. Most have been written in a single day, which allow me to keep the ideas themselves fresh, without forgetting where I’m going between days. Still, with 91 more pieces to go, I don’t want to count my chickens early. I do believe, however, that these pieces represent some of my best and most exciting work to date.

Check back regularly for updates regarding this project and performances of these new works.

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