The Stars Still Shine

SATB (divisi) a cappella


YouTube credit: Dolce Canto and Ansan City Choir, conducted by Peter Park;
April 5, 2016 in Ansan City, South Korea


Recording credit: Dolce Canto and Ansan City Choir, conducted by Peter Park;
April 5, 2016 in Ansan City, South Korea

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TEXT

Upon an ancient mountaintop there grow
A pair of pines—majestic, tall, and grand—
As cranes, at home where heaven touches earth.

A sea of mist enshrouds the vale below;
Unspoken dreams and secrets dark and deep
Beneath uncertain waters hidden lie.

But high above the mist the stars still shine
Their flick’ring light, until the sun shall rise
And splendid shatter all our darkening,

And two proud pines beneath the earth entwine;
Embracing roots, they gravel down to touch
The sacred fire—the source of life, of love.
Charles Anthony Silvestri

PROGRAM NOTES

About the Poem
THE STARS STILL SHINE weaves together the binary motif of separation and unity with imagery of the four elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire. For me, trees have always been especially sacred. They are beautiful, ancient, mysteriously powerful, present in the sacred imagery of many traditions. Trees represent for me the axis mundi, the great spiritual axis of the universe, simultaneously soaring up to heaven and delving under the earth. While apparently separate above ground, below the surface they intertwine, effectively mingling the four elements together.
Charles Anthony Silvestri

Abridged Program Note for concert program (see score above for extended program notes)
My musical setting of The Stars Still Shine closely follows the clear structure and rich imagery of Tony Silvestri’s beautiful poem. The setting of the first stanza begins with a musical depiction of the ancient mountaintop with its pair of pines, including a mysterious sliding motion in the men’s music. As a nod to the fact that the work will be performed on the group’s South Korean tour, much of the melodic material in the opening section is based on a pentatonic (5-tone) scale commonly used in Asian music. At the beginning of the darker second stanza, the music likewise takes on a more foreboding tone by way of an repeated ostinato on the words “[a] sea of mist…”, which paints a vivid musical picture of the mist that “enshrouds the vale below.” This effect is achieved via blurred clusters of notes that eventually yield to music that represents “secrets dark and deep” that are hidden “[b]eneath uncertain waters.”

After a brief interlude based on the musical motive for the “sea of mist,” the music for the third stanza of the poem takes a decidedly brighter and more hopeful turn as it parallels the poem’s imagery, leading to a dramatic climax on the eponymous phrase “the stars still shine,” the turning point of both the poem and the music. The fourth and final stanza returns to the opening stanza’s image of the two pines, along with a return to the opening men’s music and a varied return of the music in the women’s voices that described the two pines from the first stanza. This section eventually leads to the main climax of the piece on “The sacred fire,” which is depicted by bright sonorities in the women and deep rich sonorities in the men. The subterranean sacred fire eventually bursts through the surface on “the source of life, of love.” The work closes with a short coda that repeats the earlier text, “And two proud pines beneath the earth entwine…” above the men’s sliding chords, ending with a music image of the entwined roots of the two trees.
– John Muehleisen (Dec. 16, 2015)