• pf
  • SATB
  • 7 min 30 s

Programme Note

Composer note:

My eight-minute musical setting of Norton Juster’s As: A Surfeit of Similes for Mixed Chorus and Piano Solo (2014) is the third Juster text I have had the pleasure of setting to music. It follows A Colorful Symphony (1987) for Narrator and Orchestra, from the children’s classic The Phantom Tollbooth and The Dot and the Line, A Romance in Lower Mathematics (2005) for Narrator and Chamber Ensemble, with a subsequent 2011 version for Narrator and Orchestra. Francisco Nuñez and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City are giving the world premiere performances on November 4 and 6, 2016. In conjunction with this premiere, the YPC has commissioned another work, Menasherie (2015), based on animal poems by Ogden Nash.

As is a poem of 44 rhyming four-line stanzas in the same rhythm, each line containing a simile, for a total of 176 similes. Juster’s similes are mostly humorous, sometimes wistful and always witty, beginning with “As poor as a church mouse, As thin as a rail, As soft as a porpoise, As strong as a gale…” and ending with “As flat as a pancake, As tight as a screw, As gentle as caring, And as sad as adieu.” The author and the Robert A. Freedman Dramatic Agency, Inc. have granted me permission to set a selection of verses from the book, and I have chosen 18 stanzas with 72 similes.

The rhythms in both chorus and piano begin with simple, minimalist patterns which quickly develop into new, irregular rhythms, often juxtaposing three against four. The pitch material begins in Lydian mode, then suddenly becomes disjunct and chromatic, with frequent use of the octatonic scale (alternating half steps and whole steps) favored by Bartok and Stravinsky. These extremes battle until they gradually merge to reveal themselves as two sides of the same musical coin. Throughout the work, the virtuosic piano solo offers colorful commentary on the text, both as it is being sung and in short bridges between stanzas.

— Robert Xavier Rodríguez

Choral Text © Norton Juster:
 As poor as a church mouse,
As thin as a rail,
As smooth as a porpoise,
As rough as a gale.

As brave as a lion,
As spry as a cat,
As bright as a penny,
As blind as a bat.

As fair as a lily,
As empty as air,
As fresh as a daisy,
As cross as a bear.

As pure as an angel,
As clever as zippers,
As still as a statue
As friendly as slippers.

As hard as a rock,
As white as a sheet,
As deaf as a post,
As red as a beet.

As light as a feather,
As wrinkled as prunes,
As creepy as spiders,
Elusive as tunes.As moist as the dew,
As quiet as pride,
Uncertain as weather,
As sure as the tide.

As slow as the ketchup,
As heavy as lead,
As short as bad tempers,
As safe as your bed.

As lost as a star,
As slip'ry as soap,
As sad as a woe,
As faded as hope.

As pale as a moonbeam,
As brisk as November,
As startled as sparrows,
As gone as "Remember?"

As fierce as a leopard,
As drunk as a sailor,
As fit as a fiddle,
As grim as a jailer.

As splendid as cake,
As mellow as ale,
As thick as a pudding,
As slow as a snail.As faint as a whisper,
As certain as Christmas,
Contagious as yawning,
As slim as an isthmus.

As smart as a whip,
As neat as a pin,
As dear as a dolly,
As ugly as sin.

As gnawing as doubt,
As deep as true love,
As tempting as elsewhere,
As snug as a glove.

As lively as polkas,
As contrary as kites,
As meager as praise,
As precious as rights.

As vague as a longing,
Destructive as time,
As round as an apple,
Relentless as rhyme.

As flat as a pancake,
As tight as a screw,
As gentle as caring,
And as sad as "Adieu."