‘Tis You: Music for Douglass College Centennial


I composed ‘Tis You, a setting of Amy Lowell’s poem, Listening, for the Centennial of Douglass College. Created for the Voorhees Choir, in my day the women’s chorus of Douglass College (now of Rutgers University), the premiere takes place on 12/2/17 during the Choir’s fall concert, and on 12/3/17 during the Yule Log Ceremony at the Voorhees Chapel on the Douglass campus. I searched far and wide for a text. After months of research, I looked at An Anthology of Great U.S. Women Poets 1850-1990, edited and with notes by Glenn Richard Ruihley. After discussing the project with Dean Jacquelyn Litt, I returned to this book,  and by chance opened it to the Lowell poem. The first line is ‘Tis you that are the music, not your song.’ I love the way the poem speaks of the internal music of our beings, the meaning of our individual contributions, and also our role in the larger ocean of life. I had finally found the text! Brandon Williams, conductor of the Voorhees Choir, requested a version for treble chorus, string quartet and piano; there is also a version for treble chorus and piano.

My education at Douglass College, and in particular my music studies with Professors Robert Lincoln and James Scott, and composer Robert Moevs at Rutgers College, started me on my path as a composer. As a senior, after much discussion, I was given permission to present a senior composition recital, the first in the history of the school. I was required, in addition to composing multiple pieces, to perform one of my piano compositions, to find all of the performers, organize rehearsals, and attend to all details surrounding the recital. It was an inspiring experience, and confirmed me in my strong, if, at that time naïve, desire to pursue composition as my life’s work. I was pleased to return to Douglass College in 1990, when I was inducted into the Douglass Society of Distinguished alumnae, and to recall the importance of this institution for myself and the many thousands of fellow alumnae who were inspired by the education that helped them on their own life paths. –JS


by Amy Lowell

‘Tis you that are the music, not your song.
The song is but a door which, opening wide,
Lets forth the pent-up melody inside,
Your spirit’s harmony, which clear and strong
Sings but of you. Throughout your whole life long
Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide
This perfect beauty; waves within a tide,
Or single notes amid a glorious throng.
The song of earth has many different chords;
Ocean has many moods and many tones
Yet always ocean. In the damp Spring woods
The painted trillium smiles, while crisp pine cones
Autumn alone can ripen. So is this
One music with a thousand cadences.


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