BROWSE & LISTEN

Choral Music

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The Valley of Unrest (2020) for SATB chorus | 4'45"

    text by Egdar Allan Poe

That Will Not Save (2018) for TTBB (chorus or vocal quartet) & Piano | 3'15"

     text by A. E. Housman

A Name for All (2017) for SATB chorus| 3'15"
      text by Hart Crane

 

THIS (2017) for SATB chorus | 2'
      text by A. R. Ammons 

The Weight Of The World is Love (2017) for SSATTB chorus | 5'15"

    text by Allen Ginsberg

Midsummer (2015) for SATB chorus | 4'45"

     text by William Bronk

The Tree That Plucks Fruit (2015) for SATB chorus|  3'30"
      text by Vicki Hearne

 

By Disposition of Angels (2014) for SATB chorus | 5'
      text by Marianne Moore

 

The Core (2014) for SATB chorus|  2'15"

      text by Ronald Johnson

 

I Will Be Earth (2014) for SATB chorus | 2'20"

      text by May Swenson

Just Walking Around (2013) for SATB chorus | 6'15"

      text by John Ashbery

The Fair Flower of Northumberland (2011) for SATB chorus | 3'40"

      folk text from Child's Ballads

 

The Valley of Unrest (2020)

Text by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 4'45"

Single movement work

I was approached to set this poem by soprano and collaborator Arianna Arnold after her stunning performances as Gertrude Stein in multiple performances of MAY SHE | SHE MAY. While working on this text setting, the atmospheric, descriptive qualities of the poem led me to reconceive the project as a choral piece - with a dedication, soprano solo, and more music for Arianna as apology! It is a poem of pure mood, the kind of text whose non-narrative, static, symbolic, passionate stylings we see mirrored in the works and aesthetic goals of the French 19th  and 20th century artists who worshipped Poe: Debussy, (early) Ravel, Baudelaire, Mallarmé. It seems likely this formerly “silent dell” is not a real location, but an emotional, internal landscape of mourning, agitation, and desolation. Poe leads us around this emotional landscape, its geography, its climate, its history (vaguely). The poem wallows, deliciously so, in this panorama and my setting trails off into the distance, not quite ending, since the poem has been a snapshot, not a story. With the emphasis on rustling, on “airs that move,” I felt a chorus of ghostly voices would better create the haunted atmosphere of this mournful piece.

 

"The Valley of Unrest" (1831) by Edgar Allen Poe. This poem is in the public domain.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

 

That Will Not Save (2018)

Text by A. E. Housman (1895-1936)

TTBB (vocal quartet or chorus) & Piano

Total duration ca. 3'15"

Single movement work

Listen to a recording on YouTube

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

Video performance, February 22, 2020 in Baltimore, MD: Vince Sandroni, Tenor 1; Ben Hawker, Tenor 2

Jason Buckwalter, Baritone; John Scherch, Bass; Valerie Hsu, Piano

While nationalism, tribalist patriotism, and military enthusiasm were potent forces in the nineteen-teens and twenties, British poet A. E. Housman was writing epigrammatic and melancholy poems about the cut-short lives of soldiers, about youth that descends into death, about unrequited or unspoken love, about swords that will not save. This poem, the second from Housman’s collection “Last Poems,” speaks from the point of view of a soldier preparing for war, thinking about the others who have taken part in war, both enemies and friends. The soldier thinks of these things with the cold comfort of girding himself with a weapon, a tool designed for killing. The poem simultaneously evokes the atavism and romanticism of war: thinking “on old ill fortunes / Of better men than I” is supposed to “make him brave,” even as he laments the fallen soldiers whose lives he will never know, or for whom he should not mourn because of the arbitrary lines that divide one side from another, as it seemed to those most disillusioned by the Great War. Like the poem, my musical setting is not optimistic. It aspires to air out the sadness and grief that is tightly coiled within the late Victorian rhyming quatrains of this short, lamenting poem.

 

Text, poem no. 2 “As I gird on for fighting…” by A. E. Housman from “Last Poems,” published in 1922. This poem is in the public domain.

 

A Name for All (2017)

Text by Hart Crane (1899-1932)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 3'15 

Single-movement work

Hart Crane’s mystical “A Name for All,” divides reality into two categories, the animal and the human, the real and the artificial: against the reality of  night insects he opposes words, names, and labels, offering these as humans' revenge upon the natural world, envious of its freedom. Even as a poet is tasked with creating art from words, Crane's poem ends with the obliteration of language as a means to divide us into categories, in a secular but holy vision, uniting all men and things under a single name.

 

“A Name for All” from COMPLETE POEMS OF HART CRANE by Hart Crane, edited by Marc Simon. Copyright 1933, 1958, © 1966 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1986 by Marc Simon. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

 

THIS (2017)

Text by A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 2'

Single-movement work

In his perceptive and sometimes almost forensic style of writing, the poet and biologist A. R. Ammons reveals truths in the form of simple observations, clinically delivered. Many of the 'really short' poems by Ammons, consisting of no more than a handful of words, tackle existential questions with the concise precision of a scalpel. In the case of "THIS," the poem's title serves as the single sentence's grammatical object, a broad sweep gesturing at everything around us, which will be completely obliterated by the changes wrought by time. In such a tiny poem, Ammons destroys the whole earth, suggesting, in the scale of the poem, the scale of our own lives against the enormity of the infinite.

“This” from THE REALLY SHORT POEMS OF A. R. AMMONS, by A.R. Ammons Copyright © 1990 by A.R. Ammons. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

 

The Weight of the World is Love (2017)

Text by Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

SSATTB Chorus

Total duration ca. 5'15"

Single-movement work

In his perceptive and sometimes almost forensic style of writing, the poet and biologist A. R. Ammons reveals truths in the form of simple observations, clinically delivered. Many of the 'really short' poems by Ammons, consisting of no more than a handful of words, tackle existential questions with the concise precision of a scalpel. In the case of "THIS," the poem's title serves as the single sentence's grammatical object, a broad sweep gesturing at everything around us, which will be completely obliterated by the changes wrought by time. In such a tiny poem, Ammons destroys the whole earth, suggesting, in the scale of the poem, the scale of our own lives against the enormity of the infinite.

“This” from THE REALLY SHORT POEMS OF A. R. AMMONS, by A.R. Ammons Copyright © 1990 by A.R. Ammons. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

Midsummer (2015)

Text by William Bronk (1918-1999)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 4'45"

Single movement work

 

Read a view of this work by Colin Clarke in "Fanfare" (Jan/Feb, 2020): "...solo voices radiantly illuminate the glowing harmonic basis. This is a lovely piece, lovingly performed"

Listen to a recording on Soundcloud

Recorded by Brett Scott & Coro Volante, June 2018

Midsummer is one setting in a series of choral settings of modern American poetry that examine transcendent themes through a secular lens. I have been composing since 2013, a collection I have entitled An American Mass. A poet of particular conceptual inventiveness, like Wallace Stevens, Bronk in this poem contrasts the painting-like tranquility of his ‘green world’ with some startling language and images: Someone looking into a mirror and seeing their own back, and Bronk’s desire preserve the serene moment’s immediacy with the same intensity “as much as if an atrocity had happened”. This unexpectedly dark line, an exhortation to remember the ‘green world’ serves only to heighten by contrast the joy of his pronouncement that “the earth is beautiful beyond all change.” The poem and the setting capture a moment of nearly-painful intensity, a suspended moment when beauty makes us yearn for immortality.

 

Text “Midsummer” by William Bronk. Text copyright The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

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Midsummer is featured on the Ablaze Records CD "New Choral Voices, Vol. 2" (AR-00040). Recorded by the Brett Scott & Coro Volante

 

The Tree That Plucks Fruit (2015)

Text by Vicki Hearne (1946-1999)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 3'30"

Single movement work

Read a view of this work by Colin Clarke in "Fanfare" (Jan/Feb, 2020): "The world of the second setting, that of Vicki Hearne's "The Tree That Plucks Fruit" is more mobile, an almost kaleidoscopic patchwork..."

Listen to a recording on Soundcloud

Recorded by Brett Scott & Coro Volante, June 2018

Vicki Hearne’s poem has a simple vocabulary that masks the difficult of the concepts she is illustrating. Paradoxes are heaped one upon the other, but presented in a matter-of-fact fashion. Still, her concise use of this simple vocabulary provides a key: the tree, the air, the truth, the stars, and, most importantly, words. The role words and manmade concepts play in forming our existence and experience of the world is the heart of the poem. The tree/orchard is the world, and our lives are the fruit, clearly the product of the world, and yet somehow we consider ourselves formed separately from it, as if plucked from the air. Numbers are conceptual, yet these and other concepts uphold the world. We are caught in this tension between the real and the conceptual, epitomized by the word, which is only symbolic of actual thought. The poem’s final image is of a kind of radiant bewilderment. Hearne flings the beacons of truth by which we lead our lives everywhere (which is where we find them): on the ground, in the air, and into the branches of the tree of lives, as well as the actual trees within our lives. In using the final tree both literally and symbolically, Hearne inscribes literal objects of the world with this “outside the world” conceptuality. In this duality the poem marvels at how we imbue the world itself with a meaning that is, hopefully, constantly growing, catching yet more stars in our branches.

Text by Vicki Hearne, from Tricks of the Light: New and Selected Poems, copyright © 2007 by University of Chicago Press. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Vicki Hearne.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

515Q7EvJudL._SS500.jpg

The Tree That Plucks Fruit is featured on the Ablaze Records CD "New Choral Voices, Vol. 2" (AR-00040). Recorded by the Brett Scott & Coro Volante

 

By Disposition of Angels (2014)

Text by Vicki Hearne (1887-1972)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 5'

Single movement work

Read a view of this work by Colin Clarke in "Fanfare" (Jan/Feb, 2020): "Dayton's setting is highly beautiful, its dissonances moving the listening into an interior space."

Listen to a recording on Soundcloud

Recorded by Brett Scott & Coro Volante, June 2018

Marianne Moore’s By Disposition of Angels is nebulous in both senses of the word: asking questions of and about the stars and our relation to them and each other. In all of these categories, “mysteries expound mysteries,” it is a poem of questions that simply meditates on the beauty of both our own humanity and the enduring stars “aquiver forever.”

 

Permission for the use of "By Disposition Of Angels," written by Marianne Moore in 1945 and re-published in The Collected Poems of Marianne Moore is granted by the Literary Estate of Marianne C. Moore, David M. Moore, Administrator, Literary Estate of Marianne Moore.  All rights reserved.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

515Q7EvJudL._SS500.jpg

By Disposition of Angels is featured on the Ablaze Records CD "New Choral Voices, Vol. 2" (AR-00040). Recorded by the Brett Scott & Coro Volante

The Core (2014)

Text by Ronald Johnson (1935-1998)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 2'15"

Single movement work

 

Listen to a recording on Soundcloud

Recorded by David Moore & The First Readings Project, June 2016

This short poem by Johnson addresses, in mystical tones, the desire for clarity, transparency, equivalency between perception and reality, so that words themselves have a physical quality of realness “you can put your foot through.” The Core, in aching brevity speaks to our search for truth, with the past tense “wanted” suggesting that this poem comes at the end of a long search, still not fully completed.

 

"The Core," by Ronald Johnson, from Poetry magazine, June 1972, used by permission of the Literary Estate of Ronald Johnson.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

ar-00027_New_Choral_Vol1_Front_300pix.jpg

The Core is featured on the Ablaze Records CD "New Choral Voices, Vol. 1" (AR-00027). Recorded by the David Moore & The First Readings Project

I Will Be Earth (2013)

Text by May Swenson (1919-1989)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 2'20"

Single movement work

 

Listen to a recording on Soundcloud

Recorded by David Moore & The First Readings Project, June 2016

Swenson’s ecstatic words, elaborating the permeable barrier between love and lust, emotional and physical connection, tumble over each other, breaking conventions of punctuation, grammar, and syntax. In the first stanza, Swenson assigns her and the poem’s addressee the roles of complementary objects, interlocking pieces. In the second stanza, she latches onto the maritime imagery that ends the first stanza, transubstantiating the ground to a flood, roots to oars, describing an endless rocking of pleasure and almost dangerous, animal desire. The musical setting reprises the first stanza, with even more clamorous tumbling of amorous voices.

“I will be earth” by May Swenson. Used with permission of the Literary Estate of May Swenson. All Rights reserved.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

ar-00027_New_Choral_Vol1_Front_300pix.jpg

I Will Be Earth is featured on the Ablaze Records CD "New Choral Voices, Vol. 1" (AR-00027). Recorded by the David Moore & The First Readings Project

Just Walking Around (2013)

Text by John Ashbery (1927-2017)

SATB Chorus

Total duration ca. 6'15"

Single movement work

 

Listen to a recording on Soundcloud

Recorded by David Moore & The First Readings Project, June 2016

Ashbery’s poem begins with a profound question: how do the few words we take on as a name describe our essence? The poem meditates on our feelings of connection and otherness, whether that between connection to others or otherness from ourselves. After following this looping train of thought, Ashbery’s ruminations conclude in part by throwing the question out the window, sidestepping these labels “now that the end is near,” and wishing simply that he and the one he addresses be near each other, whomever they each are or whatever they are called.

“Just Walking Around” from A WAVE by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 by John Ashbery. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author. All rights reserved.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy

ar-00027_New_Choral_Vol1_Front_300pix.jpg

Just Walking Around is featured on the Ablaze Records CD "New Choral Voices, Vol. 1" (AR-00027). Recorded by the David Moore & The First Readings Project

The Fair Flower of Northumberland (2011)

Text from the Child collection of English Ballads, No. 2 (1882)

SATB Chorus & Piano

Total duration ca. 3'40"

Single movement work

 

The text of this setting was selected from the lengthy lyrics to The Fair Flower of Northumberland, found in the Child collection of English ballads. It tells a story of imprisoned Scottish knight, who woos the daughter of the  Earl of Northumberland to help him escape. When she helps him to the Scottish border, he offers that she be his mistress, but not his wife. The text ends with her being rescued from dire straights by two English knights and an admonition to beware of Scotsmen. Eschewing this distasteful final “moral” of the story, this musical setting focuses on the betrayal of the “fair flower.” The text is arranged so that the fate of“fair flower” is left unknown. Whether the she lies collapsed on the strand or has died of a broken heart is up to the audience and the performer to decide.

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Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $1/copy