Tag Archives: music composition

Summer Stars

Songs to represent musical growth in teaching, performing, and composing


Stars have represented decades of growth for me as a composer, a writer, and as an educator. I’ve written operas, string quartets, choral pieces, all including stars, but, of course, I couldn’t have done it without the poets who wrote about them first.

What Do You Listen To and How Will That Help You Grow?

Learning to choose notes, write music, is something I teach by example, just as I was taught. And to bring that full circle as educators, we grow when we listen. I’ve taught ear training; taken ear training; but I really began listening when I was very, very small — and paid attention to what composers were doing to connect to listeners. To be perfectly honest, I’m falling in love again. I love lots of styles of music, and teach all about them, but in this week’s work, I chose the more difficult road, talking about my music. It would have been a lot easier to just talk a bit about a song and its history…

A composer, at least the kind I am, representationally, has to know how to make words fit the voice because singers may change vowels to create a better sound. … Acoustical physics at its finest. So, taking into consideration the difficulties vocalists face, how the words will have to be sung in order to hit that very high note, and still bring out the beauty, success will be measured.

In that blink of an eye, and with pieces I haven’t heard in years, because of this first week’s prompt, I’m opening my soul to much of my past and listening to compositions that worked, that didn’t work, that really worked, and, well, some that needed to go back to the drawing board. It’s challenging and emotionally-charged. Why didn’t it work or what did work? Sometimes it’s the composer, the performer, or the recording – or, during a live recording, an audience member who coughed loudly throughout the entire piece. I got a little taller that day.

The songs that make a listener fall in love with each word are the truest test of success. After all, the words are the most important elements. And, it’s not the applause that shows whether you truly connected with others’ ears, it’s the silence.

I chose to include a short piece, still about stars, from Songs of the Night Wind, with the Stockholm String Quartet and Olle Persson, baritone.

Summer Stars, Olle Persson, baritone, Stockholm String Quartet, text by Carl Sandburg
Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars,

So near you are, sky of summer stars,

So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,

Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,

So near you are, summer stars,

So near, strumming, strumming

           So lazy and hum-strumming.

                                                                                                              Carl Sandburg

The Stars!

I’ve always loved the stars, both metaphysically and metaphorically.

As a composer for over, well, let’s just say I started young, I have written a lot of music on the subject of stars. It started with an opera, and then a requiem, and smaller pieces for chamber ensembles, and it just snowballed until a great deal of my work has some connection with stars!

As many Arizonans know, stars have a special impact, especially in a dark sky.  And dark skies are important for us to remain connected with the stars.  I chose an elective my first summer in Boulder at the University of Colorado when the skies were still dark there, where we were close to the stars at over a mile above sea-level, and felt like we could reach out and touch them.  I became enamored of the stars by taking a chance on an elective called General Astronomy.

Astronomy, at C.U. is no light subject, and I entered it with much trepidation but my fears were soon allayed. My professor was so excited to teach about the stars we were excited to be able to learn about them from him. He showed us so much that summer, in the classroom, at the observatory, and at the Planetarium. There are things I learned from him that I will never forget, and they have nothing to do with my field and everything to do with how it was taught. He was enthusiastic, and I remember that energy the most. Everything was worth learning about and he shared that feeling with all of us. It also made me realize that if I’d been able to take this course while I was taking Geometry I would have understood Geometry better because now I understood why we were trying to find angles. It’s all about context, isn’t it?  For us musicians, we call that applied music.

So my inspiration came from excitement about teaching, learning about stars, and it all started with an elective I chose to take because I thought it might be interesting.

Electives are near and dear to my heart because I have been teaching elective courses here at GCC and at several universities for over twelve years at each institution. (Yes, add the numbers together.)

Most of my students apologize for taking my courses as electives, because they are required, but I can tell they are holding out hope that they, too, will be inspired by learning about a choice they made that just might be something they remember for years to come. And for me, being able to enthusiastically share music with them is a blessing.

One of my favorite texts about stars is actually found as two different poems by the poet below.  This is one version:

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting Him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west;
Since, though He is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet the days I meet Him, and bless when I understand.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

So, open your mind and your heart, and be inspiring.