We're All Here (Piano Red.)
We're All Here (Piano Red.)
for mixed chorus and ten instruments (2002)
- Premiere (version with ensemble): 23 October 2002 / First Unitarian Society, Madison, Wisconsin / The Brookfield Central High School Chorus / Present Music / Phillip Olson
- Premiere (version with piano): 11 May 2008 / Trinity Lutheran Church, Madison, Wisconsin / Wisconsin Chamber Choir / Robert Gehrenbeck
- Instrumentation (ensemble): SATB, flute, oboe, clarinet, marimba/vibraphone, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, contrabass (or) piano
- Duration: 12'
- Text: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost, James Fenimore Cooper (E)
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I. Pied Beauty (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
II. Raking Leaves (Robert Frost)
III. We're All Here (James Fenimore Cooper)
This autumnal piece is cyclic in shape, a gentle meditation on mortality that ends with rebirth. There's a good deal of nostalgia for my Wisconsin childhood in it. Inasmuch as there is a program, I imagine it performed outdoors on a beautiful, cool, early autumn evening on the rolling lawn of a prairie-style home somewhere along the shores of Lake Mendota, the smell of grilling brats, newly-fallen leaves, lake water, and Leinenkugel beer mingling in the air. There are children everywhere.
In Hopkins' 1918 Pied Beauty, he advanced the delightful idea that God may be an impressionist, creating using tiny dots of color, or stipples; when Hopkins mentioned in line seven "all things counter, original, spare, strange" he was referring to animals' actions in nature as well as humans' actions in society. I reacted to Hopkins' curtal sonnet by devising a chaconne (a repeated chord progression) that, in its 'open-ended' (it ends each time by modulating into a new key) construction, is a musical manifestation of the poem's sprung paeonic rhythm. The seamless choral fabric carries my setting of Hopkins' hymn to 'dappled things;' the instrumental ensemble personifies those things.
Robert Frost, in Gathering Leaves, may have been attempting to symbolize in the endless and elusive autumn task of raking leaves the persistent pursuit of unseen ends or the difficulty of artistic triumphs, but I think he was also playfully celebrating the pure ritual of activity enjoyed for its own sake. The task seems endless and the gathered leaves slight and valueless, but it is a necessary cleansing rite whose chief goal is preparation for seasonal renewals. I manifested the emotionally cool elusiveness of the leaves being swept upwards by the breeze in rising whole-tone melodies and tremulous strings; I alternated this scene with emotionally warmer chorale settings of what I imagined to be the gatherer's internal thoughts.
The poem We're All Here serves as frontispiece to the 1843 James Fennimore Cooper novel Wyandotte; or, The Hutted Hill. It is a tale of colonial border life, planned and written in the spirit of his better-known novel The Deerslayer. I have chosen to imagine this poem as taking place at Thanksgiving, when families -- despite the conflicts that divide them -- unite. I have lost numerous good friends to AIDS. Many were denied acceptance by society because of their lifestyle, some even by their families. We're All Here is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the AIDS epidemic, 1980-present; however, it is also a tribute to those who have survived. In my setting of Cooper's poem, I progressed from a feeling of remembrance and mourning to acceptance and, ultimately to the joyous spirit of Hopkins' Pied Beauty.
I was astonished by how acutely I identified with this final poem. I believe that it sums up, as no other piece I have written save for the ending of my opera Amelia, the deep regret for the loss of my loved ones that, for much of my life, I felt inside. I'll always hope, on some level, that someday we'll all be together again for that singular meal at which we were all happy in our love for one another, and we knew it.
Commissioned by the Brookfield Central High School Chorus, Phillip Olson, Director and the Present Music Ensemble, We're All Here was premiered on 23 October 2002 at the First Unitarian Society, Madison, Wisconsin.
— Daron Hagen
About the premiere
As an undergraduate in 1980, I had made chamber music in the sanctuary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin where now I sat.
I looked around the chapel. Wright wrote that he designed it to suggest “the wings of a bird in flight.” Actually, to me the upward sweep of the roof toward the stone rostrum resembled more the hull of a ship approaching a glass prow. Massive picture windows looked out at trees covered in orange, red, and yellow leaves. The seating was designed so that parishioners faced each other as well as the minister, enhancing a sense of community. Like the Big Cedar House in which I grew up, it was heated by hot water circulating through pipes imbedded in the concrete floor — at the time a construction innovation.
Phil began We're All Here, the third movement. Fifty or so teenagers sang:
“We are all here! / Father, mother, / Sister, brother….,”
I do not sentimentalize music making: my responsibility is to listen to my music critically. But I felt odd and I wanted to understand why. I closed my eyes and tried to enter the moment. Once I let go, I began feeling dislocated in time. It was as though I had just taken a bite of a sonic petite Madeleine.
“All who hold each other dear / Each chair is filled—we’re all at home.”
My cheeks were wet. Eyes closed, I took off my glasses and wiped them on my shirt. When I opened them, I saw an Impressionistic painting of the chorus in which I sang as a boy.
“Bless, then, the meeting and the spot;”
Of course, they sounded like us. Of course, they looked like a drawing of a photograph of us. The feeling of disorientation intensified.
“For once be every care forgot;”
I felt slightly giddy. I put on my glasses and searched their faces. Some were harder, some were softer, some were new, and some were composites. Of course, they looked and sounded familiar: I had composed something for the teenage children of my high school classmates.
“Let gentle Peace assert her power, / And kind Affection rule the hour;”
I felt my brother Britt to my left and Mother to my right. Familiar ghosts — my grandparents, my uncles, Norman, Jim — began filling the pews — sort of a spectral episode of This is Your Life. I thought of Louis Sullivan singing “So much so,” in Shining Brow, of poor doomed Morales singing “again and again,” in Bandanna.
“We’re all — all here.”
The sanctuary rang with their healthy young voices. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength,” I recalled the 8th Psalm and shivered involuntarily. With each repetition of the words “We’re all here,” I felt like a feverish child whose hair is being stroked by his mother.
“Enough,” I heard myself say, aloud. “Enough, now.”
We’re All Here was intended to serve as an agent of consolation and healing. I never dreamed that I might be one of its recipients. Sentimental the music may be, mediocre the poetry may be; but, if after I die there were to be held a modest memorial service, I would like it to end with this movement.
-- Daron Hagen