The Courage for Love

The Courage for Love is my first extended work, scored for SATB choir, soprano and baritone soloists, and chamber orchestra. I composed it while on sabbatical from Eastern Kentucky University during the Spring 2019 semester. The piece was premiered by the EKU Choirs and EKU Symphony Orchestra on March 2, 2020 at the EKU Center for the Arts. During the summer of 2020, I created a version for string quintet and piano.

As I began to consider the size, scope, and theme of the composition, I knew I wanted it to have a Kentucky connection. Naturally, this led me to the poetry of Wendell Berry. I read every poem in his vast oeuvre, making note of the ones that resonated with me. As I began to winnow the list, a recurring theme revealed itself: LOVE. I then sought brief excerpts of poems by other writers that I felt would complement and unify the libretto (below). When I shared the compilation with my dear friend, Dr. Marc Ashley Foster, he beautifully encapsulated my intent: “The poems and excerpts take us on a journey from hopeful wandering and wondering, through the valleys of despair and suffering, and finally arrive at a place of love and grace. Each movement explores a complex duality of emotions and experiences: fear/hope; hate/love; darkness/light; despair/peace.” The Kentucky connection is also present in the beginning of the fourth movement, as the Appalachian folk hymn Bright Morning Stars is combined with the well-known canon Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us peace”). The two melodies are interrupted by several measures of intense cacophony, from which a solo cello emerges with the haunting “Sarabande” from J. S. Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite. The ensuing baritone solo – set to a poem that Wendell Berry wrote to his granddaughters, who had visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin – is a deliberate homage to similar poignant moments in Bach’s St. John Passion (“Es ist vollbracht”) and Mendelssohn’s Elijah (“It is enough”).

My sincerest gratitude goes to: EKU for granting the sabbatical, thus providing me the time to compose this work; Marlon Hurst, Michael Brian Welch, and Kelli Evans, who covered my teaching load while I was away; Andrew Owen, for his masterful engraving of the score; the EKU Choirs, who sing with beauty and tenacity, and who patiently endured numerous revisions during the rehearsal process; the EKU Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Jeremy Mulholland, for being cheerful collaborators; and Wendell Berry, for his inspiring words.

Click here to listen to an interview about The Courage for Love on WEKU.

Vocal forces: SATB (div.) choir, soprano & baritone soloists

Instrumentations (two versions):
  1. chamber orchestra (flute, oboe/English horn (1 player), clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, trombone, strings)
  2. string quintet & piano
Duration: 25 minutes

PERUSAL SCORE: coming soon

PERFORMANCES (with YouTube links):

I.  I Go Among Trees
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
     --Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), from “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers”

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
     --Wendell Berry (b. 1934), “Sabbath Poems” (1979, I)

II.  Hate Has No World
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
     --John Keats (1795-1821), from “Endymion”

Hate has no world.
The people of hate must try
to possess the world of love,
for it is the only world;
it is Heaven and Earth.
But as lonely, eager hate
possesses it, it disappears;
it never did exist,
and hate must seek another
world that love has made.
     --Wendell Berry, “Sabbath Poems” (1993, IV)

III.  Whatever Happens
Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
into the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens.
     --Wendell Berry, “Sabbath Poems” (1998, I)

IV.  The Courage for Love
[To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin]

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.
     --Wendell Berry, “Sabbath Poems” (1995, V)

V.  The Peace of Wild Things
I am wild, I will sing to the trees,
I will sing to the stars in the sky.
     --Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), from “Joy”

I will sing a tune with words of love –
And never stop…
     --adapted from Dickinson

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
     --Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” (1968)


“Sabbath Poems” Copyright © 2013 by Wendell Berry, from This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems.
Reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press.

“The Peace of Wild Things” Copyright © 2012 by Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems.
Reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press.

Excerpts by Emily Dickinson, John Keats, and Sara Teasdale: Public Domain

Libretto compiled by Richard Waters