Still Life (2013) for soprano and piano
-Commissioned by Ravinia's Steans Institute
-Premiered Chicago, IL July 2013
This is my second setting of a poem by Katie Ford, whose work is so meaningful to me for its elegance, clarity, and poignant commentary on the human condition. My first Ford song, Our Long War, calls on us to be feel some effect of war, even as it happens far away. Still Life asks us to consider the state of some of the most vulnerable amongst us: the drug addicted and homeless. But there is something hopeful in this text, and I love the many connotations of the title as words are said out loud, emphasizing them different ways.
The poem begins by evoking the singsong rhymes of a child, with the innocent words: “Down by the pond…” Quickly this turns, though, and we read that the pond is where the drug addicts sleep, with only nature to call home at night. We are quick to judge them, even as they are transformed by the moonlight into shadows that remind us of lovely and rare water flowers. And we can now only accuse them of beauty, as they lay asleep.
Everything that Ford captures in her poetry I am hopeful to frame in my musical setting of her words. Looking to convey her sense of simplicity, the music winds its way through the text until the end, where the word “beauty” is repeated in long melisma lines, perhaps ending with that glint of hope that there is still life.