The Gates of Morning (A Choral Piece for SATB Chorus, Oboe and Piano) was commissioned by Mars Hill College (Mars Hill, NC) in celebration of the College’s Sesquicentennial (1856 – 2006). As an alumnus of the school, I was honored to accept this commission and especially to set C. Earl Leininger’s poem, A Teacher’s Reverie. Dr. Leininger, now retired, was a former professor of mine and served Mars Hill as a Professor of Philosophy and Religion and, later, as Dean of the College. His insightful poem, which is both personal and universal, ponders and queries the valued, yet mysterious, relationship between teacher and student.
A pedal point on the note “E”, introducing the transposed Aeolian mode, is quickly established at the beginning of the piece. As the contemplative atmosphere of the first three lines of the poem sets the stage for the poem’s counterpoint of age and youth, the piano establishes a dream-like quality. The oboe soon enters with its primary melodic line as whistling from the chorus (built on a portion of the oboe’s line) invokes a sense of nostalgia. In the poem, alternating lines of youth and age are highlighted throughout the dance-like mid-section of the piece through alternating tonal centers, B-flat and D respectively. Both of these key centers are based on the same synthetic mode, a combination of the transposed Lydian and Aeolian modes. The poetic return to the spirit of the opening (i.e. “How can they know that wounds they cannot see they have helped to heal?”) is also marked by a return of the music from the beginning. Then, the poetic counterpoint returns briefly, as does the B-flat/D alternation in the music. As the final three lines of the text bring the poem to an accepting conclusion, likewise, altered musical materials from the beginning, along with the richness of double-chorus, bring The Gates of Morning to a contemplative resolution on an E-major chord.
Duration : ca. 5’ 00”
A Teacher’s Reverie
They come up, year after year,
Out of the gates of morning
Can they know what I feel?
Can spring that has never seen autumn
know how winter feels when it is born again?
Does the new leaf sense fresh life
in the tree that has trembled naked in the wind?
Might the dancing flame understand the tallow tears
that course down the candle it has warmed once more?
Are the spectral hues on pallet and brush
aware of their caress on a faded canvas?
Does the gentle summer rain share the quenching
of the dry and thirsty ground that swallows up its moisture?
How can they know that wounds they cannot see
they have helped to heal?
Can youth borrow age
as age has borrowed youth?
If it cannot, I am the happiest of thieves
If it can, I shall owe a mere hundredfold
more than I can pay.
C. Earl Leininger
(Poem used with the kind permission of C. Earl Leininger, the copyright holder.)