(A Tone Poem for Narrator, Chorus and Orchestra
based on Maya Angelou’s
“On the Pulse of Morning”)
SINCE DAWN (A Tone Poem for Narrator, Chorus and Orchestra based on Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”) was begun in November of 1994 and completed on 21 June (Summer Solstice) 1995. Written for the 1996-1997 Wake Forest University Year of the Arts, 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
Being the first poet since Robert Frost to be asked to create a poem for an American presidential inauguration, Maya Angelou in “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 value her both as a person and as a colleague. From the beginning of this project I was honored to have had her strong support and encouragement toward the creation of this, the first, musical setting of her “On the Pulse of Morning”.
The choral forces present in SINCE DAWN make it unique among the genre of pieces for narrator and orchestra (with such masterpieces as Aaron Copland’s A LINCOLN PORTRAIT and Joseph Schwantner’s NEW MORNING FOR THE WORLD immediately coming to mind). SINCE DAWN, approximately twenty minutes in length, is scored for an orchestra of pairs of woodwinds (flute 2 doubling piccolo and oboe 2 doubling English horn), four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, piano, timpani, percussion (3), narrator, eight-part chorus and a full compliment of strings. In one movement, it is performed without pause.
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, that 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.
Excepting the very final portion of SINCE DAWN, there is no textual repetition between the narrator (who functions as a true soloist) and the chorus (who, like the orchestra, functions both alone and in a supportive, coloristic role). In setting words to music, I feel it paramount that a poet’s words be fully respected and honored. Only then may a successful “marriage” of word and music be achieved.
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 – and one I know shared by Maya Angelou – that all hearts who experience SINCE DAWN will be lifted and moved to new beginnings.
Winston-Salem, NC/July 1996