Singing Together

SATB (divisi) a cappella


Recording credit: Premiere performance by Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Loren Pontén; October 7, 2017 at University Congregational Church, Seattle, WA

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TEXT

Singing together –
Is it enough to bring hope
when leadership fails,
when I crumble to the floor
unable to face the day
or tomorrow?

The strains that rise from our lungs and throats
and join together in air –
Is there enough power there to connect
and make the world feel right after all?

How dare I hope for reassurance
through song?

Then in one moment
Something shimmers
Larger, brighter than you or me
or my hopeless thoughts
Notes colliding in air become
not one, but a thousand mirrored crystals
So bright I close my eyes and feel
connection, clarity, closure
Nothing else matters but what we are creating together
greater than ourselves,
spiraling upwards, lifting us
together into shimmering hope

Is it enough to make us forget, forgive, overcome?
If not music, then where else do we turn
To connect and sway and rise together
Making light out of darkness?
– Jill Clymer (2016)

PROGRAM NOTES

As I approached my 20th year of singing with Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, I wanted to find a way to say thank you to the choir.  Opus 7 has been an ongoing source of musical connection and a weekly refuge where I feel support and belonging. Regular rehearsals and familiar faces have provided reassurance and stability in my life from the tender age of 24 onward, through all that happens in life—marriage, kids, cancer, career.  As both a singer in Opus 7 and Executive Director of Northwest Girlchoir, I know the power of singing together to help each of us grow, learn trust, and overcome emotional hurdles. It became clear that the best way to convey my gratitude to the choir was to commission a piece for them from Opus 7’s Composer in Residence, John Muehleisen.

The poem “Singing Together” poured out of me at a time of depression and struggle, when I turned to choir rehearsals as a place for mending, for rising above. John’s music has truly captured the feeling that singing together can be a source of joy and healing even when hope feels lost. Thank you, John, for this musical gift, and thank you, Opus 7 and Loren Ponten, for 20 years—and counting—of making music together.
Jill Clymer, Sept. 2017

When Jill Clymer first approached me and Opus 7 Artistic Director Loren Pontén with the idea of commissioning a work to celebrate her 20+ years of singing with Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, needless to say, I was honored that she would entrust me with the task of composing the work. I’ve known Jill during her entire tenure of singing with Opus 7,  having started composing for the group back in 1995, shortly before Jill joined. It’s probably safe to say that she has sung nearly all of the pieces I’ve composed for Opus 7, which number nearly 25 individual works and movements from larger works. We had been part of one another’s musical lives for two decades, so the process of collaborating with Jill on this commission seemed like a natural extension of our existing musical relationship.

While the concept for the work went through a number of different iterations, it was at a meeting in late 2016, when Jill presented me with her marvelous, newly minted poem, that the real spirit of what would become Singing Together emerged. At the time, we settled on using several excerpts from her poem as well as two other brief poems about singing and music; however, when I eventually undertook the task of composing the work several months later, the beautiful meaning and spirit of Jill’s full text leapt off the page into my musical imagination. Within less than 30 minutes, the concept for the entire piece as well as the music for the first two stanzas came pouring out of me so fast it was hard to keep up. Jill and her inspirational and uplifting poem combined to become the “muse” that spurred my creativity. I was especially struck by the vivid visual and sonic images in the poem. As a result of this rush of inspiration, I suggested at our next meeting that we use her poem exclusively, and I was delighted when she agreed to my suggestion.

After the initial flood of creativity, I was not only faced with finishing the musical setting, but also with the daunting task of doing justice to Jill’s personal, yet universal poem, one that I think will resonate with all choral singers who love the choral art and who find solace and joy in the musical and spiritual act of singing in choirs. I sincerely hope that the setting paints a fitting musical picture of the wonderful images in Jill’s poem and that it captures the uplifting spirit of her text and the joy that comes from singing together.
John Muehleisen, Sept. 2017