Commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in honor of Elaine Lebenbom

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  • 12 min

Programme Note

Composer note:
Something for the Dark was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as a result of my receiving the DSO Elaine Lebenbom Award for Female Composers in 2014.

Thinking about Detroit led me to think about resilience, and what it means to endure. After a brief hint of passing doubt, Something for the Dark opens with a bold, heroic statement of hope and fortitude in the horns and trombones. I think of this music as the optimism of a very young person. Initially, I envisioned this motif journeying through a bit of challenge and adversity to arrive at an even stronger, bolder version of itself: Growth! Triumph! A happy ending! But that wasn't what happened. Early into its search for glory, the motif finds itself humbled beyond recognition: a delicate, childlike tune in the flute, harp, and celeste arises in its stead. This new version of hope is then put through a series of challenges that roil and churn it like the sea tossing a small boat — testing it, weathering it, even taunting it with memories of its early hubristic naïvetéé. Eventually, the music finds its way to solid ground, and though its countenance has now darkened, its heroism a distant memory, there is serenity and some wisdom — and perhaps, even, the kind of hope that endures.

The title of the piece comes from a poem by Philip Levine, the Detroit-born-and-raised, former U.S. Poet Laureate who was best known for his poems about Detroit's working class. The last two lines of For Fran struck me as an apt motto for his many clear-eyed reflections on endurance. In preparing the flower beds for winter, Levine's wife becomes a symbol of the promise of renewal: "She packs the flower beds with leaves / Rags, dampened papers, ties with twine / The lemon tree, but winter carves / Its features on the uprooted stem… I turn to her whose future bears / The promise of the appalling air / My living wife, Frances Levine, Mother of Theodore, John, and Mark / Out of whatever we have been / We will make something for the dark."

— Sarah Kirkland Snider