The Eastern Kentucky University Choirs and Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of The Courage for Love - my first extended work for SATB choir, soprano & baritone soloists, and orchestra - on March 2, 2020 at the EKU Center for the Arts. The program also included Handel's Zadok the Priest, Ravel's Bolero, and the Finale from Bruckner's Eighth Symphony.
The Courage for Love is my first extended work, scored for SATB choir, soprano and baritone soloists, and chamber orchestra. (I plan to create a version for string quartet and piano in the near future). 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.
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”). Following several measures of intense cacophony, 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.
Sending best wishes to the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School Chamber Choir and their director, Tiffany Marsh, for their performance today at the Kentucky Music Educators Association state conference in Louisville, including Thou Art My Lute.