vocal works

Pained in the blue seat, pained in the red seat

Performed at the Longy School of Music by Sarah Tuttle, soprano, Jeremy Hirsch, baritone, & Julia Hsu, piano. [view text]

If you’ve ridden the train north from New York City, you’ll know the blue seat and the red seat: the cars of Metro North’s Hudson Line are all upholstered in an alternating pattern of battered, colored pleather, and are, truth be told, quite uncomfortable.

Poet Sarah Heady and I wanted to collaborate on a piece that was marked with the specificity of place, the details of sight and sound that make life particular, individual. Sarah set herself the task of riding the train from Grand Central Station to Poughkeepsie, recording her thoughts as a set of 25 prose poems. Her ability to capture the vividness of the experience in real time (the poems received only minimal editing after the fact) was astonishing to me. I chose five from the group to set for the present work for soprano, baritone, and piano.

For you have struggled with God and with men

II. Jacob sees the past and the future (excerpt)

III. Jacob wrestles with the angel (excerpt)

Performed by the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Carmen Helena Téllez, conductor.

For you have struggled with God and with men presents three scenes from the life of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, drawing its texts from the book of Genesis. The narrative of Jacob’s life shows a high degree of subtlety and nuance in presenting the psychology and actions of Jacob, and these pieces aim to reflect this, tracing Jacob’s development as a person over the course of his long life.

In Jacob’s Dream, we see him as a young man, talented, destined for greatness, and a little cocky. Jacob Sees the Past and the Future finds him older and close to despair, unsure of the worth of his own achievements and fearful for the future of his children and their descendants. Closure is found in Jacob Wrestles with the Angel; after a long night of turmoil, Jacob, renamed Israel, departs with a new and deeper sense of his relationship with God and his fellow human beings. Although the three pieces form a narrative arc, any one movement may be performed independently, showing Jacob at a particular moment in his journey towards wisdom.