The Gift to Sing

Instrumentation: SATB
Duration: 3:30
Premiere: 04/29/2023
Zephyrus, conductor Megan Sharp
St. Paul’s Memorial Church
Charlottesville, VA

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Program Note:
The Gift to Sing is an SATB setting of the poem of that name by James Weldon Johnson – poet, novelist, major civil rights activist and more. His poem touches on the wondrous way in which singing can take us beyond our troubles and give us joy. While composing this, and finding ways to embrace these words in music, I had that same experience. The images combine plain-spokenness with imaginative use of poetic elements, as in the beautiful alliteration of ‘Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing.’ The description of music’s ability to pierce the darkness is particularly vivid, as is the increasing power ascribed to singing, from the softness of the first mention, to the strength of the last statement, suggesting how the act of singing can bring transcendence. The Gift to Sing was commissioned by Zephyrus, Central Virginia’s Early Music Vocal Ensemble, and is dedicated to them. –JS

The Gift to Sing

by James Weldon Johnson

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day¬–
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.

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