Commissioned by Rebecca Ringle & Grace Cloutier

  • 2 Sopranos, harp
  • 11 min

Programme Note

Listen to Synergy Vocals (Micaela Haslam, soprano; Amanda Morrison, soprano); Louise Martin, harp.

Composer note
This setting of excerpts from Gertrude Stein’s “Stanzas in Meditation” is a personal meditation on select stanzas and lines from the poem. The poet John Ashbery called “Stanzas in Meditation” a “general, all-purpose model, which each reader can adapt to fit his own set of particulars. The poem is a hymn to possibility; a celebration of the fact that the world exists, that things can happen.” These words resonated with me early into my work on this piece. People interpret Stein in all different ways, and this 150-page poem, with its repetition of colorless connecting words (“where,” which,” “these,” have,” “about,” etc.) and its hazy, abstract sensation of a plot, is a particularly tempting canvas for the reader’s projections. The word that occurs most often in Stein’s poem is “they,” for as Ashbery writes, this is a poem about “them,” the external world: how the narrator assesses them and asserts her own sense of shifting importance around them. In selecting the excerpts, I sought to highlight these recurring themes of identity and alienation. I set it for two voices because the nature of the text suggested to me an inner dialogue. I preserved portions of certain stanzas while juxtaposing different lines from others, mindful of Stein’s general chronology. I sought to spotlight what for me were particularly communicative moments – those where the frustration of striving to accompany the evolving thought of the character felt rewarded by a fleeting, if ultimately illusory, glimpse of understanding.

— Sarah Kirkland Snider