The Gift to Sing (2016)

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Commissioned: Georgetown Middle High School

Text: James Weldon Johnson

Duration: three minutes

Difficulty: high school

Instrumentation: SATB mixed chorus and piano

Program Notes:

The Gift to Sing

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.

  • James Weldon Johnson, from Fifty Years & Other Poems

That they describe the act of singing as a tool to get through troubled times, these words seemed like the ultimate thank you note to honor a retiring music teacher, Laura Laflamme.
I treated the refrains as a representation of the joy Laura brought to generations of students, each spreading further than the last, through escalating repetition and expanding texture.
The final, unaccompanied statement is a reassuring declaration that these students are better prepared for life’s challenges, thanks to this dedicated teacher.

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