In June 1995 I completed SINCE DAWN (A Tone Poem for Narrator, Chorus and Orchestra based on Maya Angelou’s On the Pulse of Morning). This original orchestral version, composed for the Wake Forest University Year of the Arts (1996-1997), is in a single movement and is approximately twenty minutes in length. The score bears the following inscription:
Dedicated to Maya Angelou and to all artists
who, through their art,
seek to make the world a better place
My new two-piano accompanying version, created in early 2015, is offered as an alternative to the original orchestral version. The choral forces (SSAATTBB) in SINCE DAWN make it unusual among the genre of pieces for narrator and orchestra. The same choral forces with narrator are used in both the orchestral and two-piano versions of the piece.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was the first poet since Robert Frost to be asked to create a poem for an American presidential inauguration. Her On the Pulse of Morning both challenged our nation and offered renewed hope as she read her poem at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Although the poem was created to be a part of a national political function, the significance of the poem goes far beyond the event for which it was created. As all quality art should be able to do, the poem clearly stands on its own as a work of art as it addresses all of creation.
I have long admired the many aspects of Maya Angelou’s creative work and I valued her both as a person and as a colleague at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. From the start of SINCE DAWN I was honored to have had Maya’s strong support and encouragement toward the creation of this, the first, musical setting of her On the Pulse of Morning.
Dr. Angelou’s On the Pulse of Morning emanates from three key words that form the first line of her poem: “A Rock, A River, A Tree.” The ideas represented by these three poetic images are developed throughout the poem. In SINCE DAWN three musical ideas emerge, most often over a pulsating bass line, which correspond with each of the three poetic images: A gentle two-note, sixteenth/dotted-quarter fanfare idea (“A Rock”); a more lyrical and flowing melodic idea (“A River”); a rich and lush chordal idea (“A Tree”). As with the poem’s poetic ideas, the use and development of these three musical ideas are at the heart of the creation of SINCE DAWN.
Except for the very final portion of SINCE DAWN, there is no textual repetition between the narrator (who functions as a true soloist) and the chorus (which, like the orchestra and the later two piano version, functions both alone and in a supportive, coloristic roles).
Near its conclusion, Maya Angelou’s On the Pulse of Morning challenges us to:
“Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.”
It is my hope that all hearts that experience SINCE DAWN will be lifted and moved to new beginnings.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina