"The Heart's Reflection - Music of Daniel Elder," the Westminster Choir's new recording with Naxos of America, is set to be released on Tuesday, October 29th. In a Westminster Choir College press release director Joe Miller states “One of the hallmarks of the Westminster Choir is to promote new American choral works. The burgeoning development of the choral art in the United States has begun to stimulate the imagination of composers adept at giving voice to new and exciting choral repertoire. Daniel's music sparked my imagination, and I knew the Westminster Choir would express its deep connection with joy and passion. These compositions have a way of striking the heart of the listener, and audiences have responded with enthusiasm when we sing Daniel’s music in concert.” This exciting new album is available already for pre-order on Amazon.com and iTunes, where you may also preview an audio clip of all eleven tracks on the disc. Don't miss your chance to experience one of the very best choirs in the United States performing a complete program of brand new music. Order your copy today!
I've just finished my newest choral work, a commission by David Edmonds at the University of Montana. This work takes Edgar Allan Poe's A Dream Within a Dream and sets it dramatically with voices and piano. As stated in the performance notes: "In A Dream Within a Dream Edgar Allan Poe writes of a traumatic grief that shakes him to the core, affecting his perception of reality itself. Through this setting, his exploration continues into the musical realm. The piano textures here represent something that is not quite real, and fading mercilessly in and out between whimsical fantasy and crushing reality. This aids the tone of Poe’s words and provides a backdrop for the voices to speak his emotions in a more solid context, albeit not always quite rationally. There is such a two-sided nature to the emotions at play that it is almost laughable to compare them musically, except when placing oneself into the mindset of a desperate mind. Poe needs no help in expressing his feelings—the power of his words carries an inherent statement without calling for musical aid. However, in Dreamscape we will attempt to explore them in the context of the modern psyche and hopefully one may see Poe’s struggle arise within oneself in sensory ways not often accessible from poetry alone." This work is scheduled to be premiered in the Spring of 2014, and I couldn't be more excited to see it come to life!
A video of the Westminster Choir's February 2013 recording sessions of "The Heart's Reflection" is now available online. Watch director Joe Miller conduct the choir and collaborative percussionists
in a full rendition of "In Your Light" from Three Themes of Life and Love. Share the experience of recording this exciting music and hear a full preview of the work before the album is released on October 29th - and pre-order your copy today on Amazon.com or iTunes!
A series of videos interviews I gave for J.W. Pepper earlier this year are now available online - Watch me discuss the process behind creating three of my recently published works for choir, Ballade to the Moon, Lullaby, and The Heart's Reflection. Please visit the links below to stream these videos, and enjoy! Additional footage will be available soon, in which I discuss a variety of topics related to music composition and my creative experiences. Look out for these to be posted along with the release of the Westminster Choir's newest recording "The Heart's Reflection - Music of Daniel Elder."
Ballade to the Moon
The Heart's Reflection
My orchestral work, "The Senses," has just been recorded by Ravel Virtual Studios. Please enjoy the excerpt below: Movement II, "Olfactus" (smell). Read a little about the work here, in this piece taken from the introductory notes to the work: "Conceived as a semi-programmatic work, [The Senses] covers as wide a variety of styles and emotions as possible within the loose confines of these five themes--sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Olfactus is the most chromatic movement, and uses a floating, ungrounded tonic to depict the subtleties of vapors - contrasting with the heavily romantic middle theme that provides the only real clarity of perception. This concrete motive then disintegrates back into the mist, and the movement ends with a panning motion to carry into the dark and brooding third movement."
Recordings of the other four movements coming soon!
There is now a sneak preview available from the Westminster Choir's upcoming album "The Heart's Reflection - Music of Daniel Elder" distributed by Naxos records. The first part in a cycle of Rumi settings entitled Three Themes of Life and Love, "In Your Light" explores one of the most joyful of Rumi's poems and expresses it musically in a churning statement of pure ecstasy. These pieces are written for mixed chorus and percussion accompaniment, to be played by a single performer. Just as Rumi's works are at once erotic and full of an earthy humanity, the use of these dramatic and colorful percussion instruments traditionally found in the orchestral palette aids in placing Rumi's words in an appropriately passionate tone of expression and give the music a raw, ethnic feel. "In Your Light" begins the cycle with a powerfully energized tone that expresses the full depth and height of this inherent joy. I sought to depict the unbridled emotion and profound insight he describes in the text, included below. Enjoy this special preview of the upcoming album release, and please look for it on Amazon, iTunes, and wherever classical music is sold - September 2013!
In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.
The final day of recording has arrived! Today we collaborate with choir member and gifted pianist John Hudson as he accompanies the final two nocturnes, "Ballade to the Moon" and "Lullaby." These bookend pieces complement each other contrastingly to "Star Sonnet" and achieve similar emotions despite their different textures. Through these works are often complimented simply as "beautiful," with the Westminster Choir breathing its life and electricity into them it is never more true than today. In about four takes each we complete these profound miniatures, and I am beside myself at the opportunity to hear them sung at a level of finesse and maturity like never before.
It is such a treat to finish our marathon of sessions with these works, as they contain a simplistic yet powerful message to all involved. Far from the tedium of recording the intricate passages of Thursday’s and Friday’s music, these pieces help us to fall in love all over again with singing in its simplest form. I say all this not out of a praise for the notes on the page, but out of profound admiration to those who breathe the true life into the music. And that’s what I have for all the members of the Westminster Choir, a profound admiration for these incredible singers - merely 40 of the best chosen from a pool of seemingly unending talent that is Westminster Choir College. Bidding farewell to Sound Mirror duo John and Blanton, I look forward to collaborating with them further as this project becomes a reality. As we travel back to Princeton at last, we all have an extremely exciting event to anticipate in another five months, when these efforts are turned into a truly unforgettable disc to add on to Westminster’s celebrated legacy.
Our night session contains a very short to-do list, as all three Rumi settings on the docket for today have been excellently sung already through the morning and afternoon. “A Breathing Peace” is touched up, and the choir is treated to a sound booth listening to all three of the day’s works in sequence. It is fun enough for me to write these works and then to hear them performed, but to witness a roomful of musicians appear positively giddy at the sounds they have produced is beyond words for me to express. After we applauded percussionists Mark and Jeff off stage and reset in a cappella formation, the only patch work to tackle was a brief passage in “The Heart’s Reflection” before ending the day nearly three hours early – and in excellent shape. Many choir members chose to use this time for an early end-of-trip celebration back at the hotel, and I was invited to join in the fun. Only one day, two works to go!
Day two has arrived! With the first long day finished and five (count'em, five) pieces excellently captured, the choir turns to its second chunk of music today, "Three Themes of Life and Love". Everyone puts on their symphonic hats as we welcome professional percussionists Mark Foster and Jeff Grubbs, pictured left, who will be playing nearly ten different instruments between the two of them. I have been unbelievably excited to hear the percussion combined with the voices ever since I first penned the music last summer, and so it is with great expectations that I arrive first at the hall this morning to help set up. Their expertise proves very useful before we have sung our first note, as they help reassemble the tubular bells Westminster has lent us for the recording, which we took apart for safe transportation on the bus Wednesday evening.
Any trepidations I may have had about how these instruments would sound when combined with choir are dispelled in the very first sound checks, as Mark and Jeff elicit powerful and mature tones from each cymbal, drum head, and bell they strike. Most significantly, I can hear even from the sound booth that the singers' excitement level clicks into place like never before the instant they hear - and feel - these sounds added to their notes. I will say that one choir member goes so far as to send me his excitement in a text message during the short pause between takes...though identities will remain safely anonymous, it suffices to say that the choir's elated mood is very real. The first work recorded is "In Your Light", the first of the cycle and a piece that is appropriately as elating as the mood just described. When the sprightly tambourine is added to the choir's ostinato the notes practically jump to life.
After "In Your Light" we skip to the final installment, "Drumsound Rises", which employs the centerpiece of the entire percussion idea in these works with its hand drum parts. These bookends to the cycle work well as back-to-back recording attempts, as the singers retain many important characteristics from the first work that reprise in new ways here. The final explosive bars are electrically charged, combined with a profound depth thanks to the booming 48-inch bass drum Mark so masterfully brings to life. After a relaxing lunch break, the choir reconvenes to tackle the middle movement of "Three Themes of Life and Love" - the subtle, atmospheric relative to its neighbor works, entitled "A Breathing Peace". The text to which this piece is set most effectively captures the sounds Dr. Miller's ensemble evoke here: "Flowers open every night Across the sky, a breathing peace." From the opening and closing caresses to the middle vocalise depicting the leaping of flames, each section jumps off the page thanks to expert vocal production and artfully manipulated percussion instruments. Can you picture the difference between a cymbal slide and a cymbal roll? You most certainly will after hearing these musicians work through these wonderous textures. The daytime sessions conclude with an admirable attempt at the most challenging section of the entire cycle, involving not a few Tenor high As, and containing a nearly unbearably prolonged resolution that gives way at last to a resplendent and climactic recapitulation. After our fabulous Tenors have sung more than their share of high notes, Dr. Miller wisely ends the session in favor of a nice long dinner break and revitalizing vocal rest, to put the final touches on "A Breathing Peace" in the evening's patch session. I have nothing but positive things to say to the wonderful singers and percussionists, and can't wait to hear the results of our hard day's work.
After a long dinner break, we reconvened for the second session of the day. On the docket for tonight are two of the most complex a cappella pieces we have to record the whole week. With sound levels and positioning already in place from the morning, Dr. Miller gets the singers revved up and back to speed very quickly, and in only a few minutes everyone is ready to start. At bat - "The Heart's Reflection". On deck - "O Magnum Mysterium".
The morning proved to be a very fluid experience thanks to nearly perfect intonation by the choir. There was only one instance of re-pitching in nearly 25 takes over the course of the first three works. Incidentally, all three of these pieces were in sharp keys, and "The Heart's Reflection" gives the singers their first taste of flats today. Their extensive familiarity with the work from this year's domestic tour is a great asset, as the phrases are already being spun with life and precision. After spending a few minutes figuring out how the flat key areas work in the space (many acoustics seem to support some keys over others due to frequency resonance), the choir kicks into high gear and lays down nearly a dozen takes at a high level of consistent professionalism that we've come to expect from this ensemble. It is a soothing experience to hear the wide and rich sonorities of this color-based work over and over in the sound booth, each cadence more satisfying than the last.
To finish the day, we take a short break and turn to "O Magnum Mysterium", a more abstract work that is also based strongly on color and timbre. The fast-moving and repetitive triplets and tight phasing sonorities might overwhelm many musicians at 10:00 pm and after seven hours of singing, but these singers seem to draw from an endless pool of vocal power and finesse. The complicated passages find a unique home in this warm acoustic, as fast notes suddenly spark to life with a vigor that last week's rehearsal space couldn't quite muster. After a brilliant display of concentration and artistry we hone down to the final, most minute details, and end the day half an hour early with over a dozen takes that together cover a virtually flawless interpretation of the score. The singers are tired but satisfied, and remain endlessly energetic for the days ahead. Tomorrow we look forward to meeting our percussionists (yes, percussionists!) and delve into a wild world of electric Rumi settings in "Three Themes of Life and Love". Stay tuned!