The March/April 2023 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Words and Music: A Conversation with Poets and Composers” by Robert Bode. Following is a portion from the article.
Many of us wonder about the process of bringing a new piece of choral music into the world. Where do composers get their inspiration? How do they decide what text to set? I have composer friends who tell me they keep a box of poems by their piano; when they need a text, they dip into the box.
If the poem speaks to them, they begin to hear rhythms and snatches of melody, and they’re off to the compositional races. There is a complication, though, if the poem was published after 1923: it’s not yet in the public domain. Then, the composer is required to seek permission from the poet (or their estate) to set the poem. Famously, some poets—Robert Frost comes to mind—refused to grant permission for composers to set their words. That’s why we see so many choral pieces written to biblical texts or to poems from Victorian writers such as Tennyson and Rosetti and the Brownings; it’s just easier if the poet is long dead.
As lovely as Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is, however, I doubt that most composers working today would say that poem speaks to the interests and concerns of a modern audience. So, more and more, composers are choosing to collaborate with living poets to create an entirely new work.
For this article, I conducted interviews with four poet/composer teams to ask them about this process of collaboration: Stephen Bock and Rosephanye Powell, Todd Boss and Jake Runestad, Julie Flanders and Carlos Cordero, and Brian Newhouse and Kyle Pederson. I am indebted to these teams for supplying such thoughtful and engaging answers to my questions. If you’re like me, you’ll be struck by the passion and the joy with which they approach the process of bringing new choral music into the world.
Read the full article in the March/April 2023 issue of Choral Journal. acda.org/choraljournal