song cycle

New England Folk Songs: Choosing Texts

The past few months I have been writing a new set of songs based on wonderful texts by Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, and Sarah Orne Jewett. My first song cycle, Alcott Songs, features a collection of texts by Louisa May Alcott that I arranged into what seems like a summer day - from morning to night.  I like the idea of having some sort of narrative like this within the cycle, and so for this cycle I decided to use the narrative of the seasons.  Being from New England, I wanted to highlight the beautiful seasons in the region with texts by New England poets.

And so the search for texts began. 

Whenever I look for new texts, I am constantly thinking about whether or not the work is in the public domain, and therefore whether or not I need permission to set the text to music.  If the text is not in the public domain, you must contact the copyright holder for the text, request permission, and receive permission before moving forward.  If the text is in the public domain then you do not need permission to set the text.

There are a couple of really great websites with public domain material - Project Gutenberg and archive.org.  Both of these sites let you see digitized or HTML text versions of complete texts that are often in the public domain.

When I first started searching for texts for this cycle, I did some quick internet searches for New England poets who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries.  One of the poets I discovered was Sarah Orne Jewett.  I found much of her poetry to be beautifully crafted, very creative, and full of imagination.  I was drawn to a number of her poems, and found several that seemed to focus on the seasons.  Perfect!  I also found a number of poems related to the seasons by 19th century New England poet, Emily Dickinson.

Last year, I came across a poem of Emily Dickinson that I thought would be perfect for this project.  But, as I dug into the research, I learned that although Dickinson lived in the 19th century, much of her poetry was not published until well after her death, in the early and mid twentieth century.  So, even though the works were written in the 19th century, many were published after 1923, and therefore, still under copyright.

Since Harvard University Press (HUP) controls all the permissions for Emily Dickinson’s works, I completed their online permission request form (here, for those of you who are interested).  On the HUP site, it says it may take them up to 10 weeks to respond to your request.  Indeed, it was 10 weeks before I heard back, but thankfully, they approved my request.  I will have to pay HUP a percentage of all the income I receive from this work, but I am excited to include Emily Dickinson's work in this cycle!

In addition to the Emily Dickinson poem, I chose four other texts for the cycle - three by Sarah Orne Jewett and one by Louisa May Alcott.  Having just researched Louisa May Alcott’s work in the past couple of years for Alcott Songs, I found a perfect seasonal text to open the cycle.  The poem paints a picture of a snow-covered seed breaking through the ground and blooming into a spring flower.  This poem was published as part of the short story "The Frost King and How the Fairies Conquered Him," in a collection called Lulu's Library, Volume II.  Public domain! Excellent.

The three poems by Jewett that I chose to include in the cycle are "Boat Song," "Top of the Hill," and "A Country Boy in Winter."  "Boat Song" is a captivating poem about a starlit summer evening, "Top of the Hill" is a wonderful reflection on the New England autumn, and "A Country Boy in Winter" is a fun, lighthearted poem that makes winter sound a bit warmer and cozier.

All three of these works were published prior to 1923 - two of them appear in Verses 1916, which you can view on archive.org.  "A Country Boy in Winter" was published in Harpers Young People magazine in 1882.  With a little Google searching, I found a digitized version of the actual magazine on Google Books (see it here).  The internet is truly amazing sometimes!

The cycle begins with the Louisa May Alcott poem and the transition from winter to spring.  Second is the Emily Dickinson text - a fun, springtime adventure involving bees, frogs, and birds.  Third is Jewett’s “Boat Song” to give us a picture-perfect summer evening.  Fourth is Jewett’s “Top of the Hill” to provide a colorful and reflective autumn portrait.  The last song in the cycle sets Jewett’s “A Country Boy in Winter,” closing the work with a fun and witty wintertime adventure!

See the score and preorder your copy of New England Folk Songs here.  The music will be ready to ship by the end of April!

New Song Cycle for Medium Voice and Piano: New England Folk Songs

Introducing my newest song cycle, New England Folk Songs!  In this cycle, I explore the New England seasons with texts penned by New England poets.  Written for medium voice and piano, the cycle takes you through all four New England seasons through the lenses of 19th/early 20th century poets Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, and Sarah Orne Jewett.  Read more about the work, see the score, and order online here.

Consortium Opportunity! Soprano & Chamber Winds

I am very excited to be organizing a consortium of ensembles to support the composition of a new song cycle scored for soprano and chamber winds octet!  You can read all about the project background and details <a title="Alcott Songs – Consortium for Soprano &amp; Chamber Winds" href="http://www.stevedanyew.com/alcott-songs-winds/">here</a>.  You can also listen to a couple of the songs (voice &amp; piano versions) below! VI. Lullaby

[audio http://www.stevedanyew.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/song6.mp3]

I. Awake! Awake!

[audio http://www.stevedanyew.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/song1.mp3]

If you are interested in joining the consortium, or if you have a question about the project, please send me a message via the form at the bottom of <a title="Alcott Songs – Consortium for Soprano &amp; Chamber Winds" href="http://www.stevedanyew.com/alcott-songs-winds/">this page</a>.

Alcott Songs - New Work for Soprano & Piano

I am currently finishing up a new song cycle for soprano and piano titled Alcott Songs. The piece sets six short poems of Louisa May Alcott, most of which are very whimsical and fun.  Much of Alcott's poetry is about nature - flowers, birds, etc.  After spending some time reading through much of her work, I chose six poems that I thought would work best for this piece.  I also ordered them in a way that I thought could communicate a summer's day; the first poem begins with "Awake! Awake!" and the last poem is titled "Lullaby."  In between there are short tales of sunrise, flowers, lily pads, acorns, and finally sunset and sleep.

I am having a lot of fun with the poems and trying to write music that is as whimsical and fun as these poems are.   You can read the texts here.

More soon!

New Work for Soprano and Wind Octet - "Alcott Songs"

I really enjoy the poetry of Louisa May Alcott, and I decided to create a song cycle comprised of six of her relatively short poems. I tried to pull together poems that are particularly fun, witty, and whimsical.  As I began choosing these texts, I realized that it would be fun to organize them in a way that could depict a summer day: the first poem opens with “Awake! Awake!”  The second talks about jumping among lily pads, the third describes spring flowers, and the fourth portrays a squirrel and his acorn adventures.  The fifth seems to be about bees or another animal in a sort of dream-like story – I picture this as the point at which we dose off to sleep.  The sixth and final poem is a lovely lullaby which brings the day to an end.  Musically, I tried to create melodies and textures that mirror the fun and wit of the poetry.  There is a variety of music, from very light spring-like dancing in the opening song, to the quiet and delicate lullaby at the end.

Commissioned by the following musicians and institutions:

Dr. Brenton F. Alston – Florida International University Dr. Daniel Belongia – Illinois State University Dr. Justin Davis – Greatbatch School of Music, Houghton College Mr. Duane Hill – Texas Tech University Dr. John Oelrich – University of Tennessee at Martin Dr. David Ragsdale – University of Alabama Huntsville Dr. Catherine Rand – University of Southern Mississippi Dr. Jason Rinehart & Dr. Claire Vangelisti – University of Louisiana at Monroe Dr. Mark Scatterday – Eastman School of Music Mr. Timothy Shade – University of Miami Dr. Mark Walker – Troy University

Read more about the work here.