Ill on a Journey is a multilingual opera/oratorio about navigating life with chronic illness—the story of Aurelia, an adventure-loving woman whose health increasingly restricts her mobility. Featuring ancient and modern texts from around the world, it explores the theme of travel and alternative means of fulfillment for those who are unable to leave home. The title is taken from the last poem of Matsuo Bashō, a 17th-century Japanese journeyman-poet with whom Aurelia feels an affinity.
Aurelia’s worsening illness precipitates a search for meaning in her favorite activity: traveling. From the isolation of her bedroom, she voraciously reads, trying to pinpoint exactly why traveling is so special to her, and how she might find similar purpose in her new housebound life.
The story takes place over the course of a year and is divided into 12 movements corresponding to each month. The chorus and its soloists present material that Aurelia reads (texts by Han Yu, Matsuo Bashō, Gabriela Mistral, Claude McKay, and Alexander Pushkin, among others, in the original languages), and she responds in solo (soprano) passages, on texts by the composer in English. Three of Aurelia’s solo movements have been independently performed in chamber ensemble arrangements, available below.
Mt. Carrigain is a 4,683-foot peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which I climbed in September 2014. It was my 43rd of New Hampshire’s 48 peaks over 4,000 feet, the last before my worsening health made this kind of hiking no longer possible. This piece will be included in Ill on a Journey, a multilingual opera/oratorio about navigating life with chronic illness.
Listen to soprano Abigail Chapman and SORA string quartet performing September: Mt. Carrigain:
I began climbing these mountains as a child
back then I set a goal to one day know them all
when I got sick so many goals had to be abandoned
and yet I held onto this
Signal Ridge Trail is a rocky spine ascending through evergreens
soaked in mist, clothed in moss and mushrooms
although I’ve never been here, somehow I feel at home
today it’s not too difficult to hold my head up straight
today my vision is clear
today the grip of pain is loose enough to move
this is as good as I can feel
as good as I’ll ever feel
Signal Ridge Trail is laced with slippery tree roots
sending me stumbling— ankles twisting—
my body knows I want to leave it and bites the rock in despair
taking a break, out of breath, we tell each other
“The view will be sublime, when the clouds lift!”
but the clouds never lift
they swirl around the firetower
in wind threatening to tear us away
refusing to allow even a glimpse of the green beyond
knees also refuse to obey
blood turned spiky as the trail
paper birch, I am a foreigner in your home now
will you kindly steady me?
In May 2010, sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder was accused of robbery, arrested, and imprisoned on Rikers Island in New York to await trial. He was there for three years, much of the time in solitary confinement. Pressured to plead guilty, he insisted he was innocent and wanted to go to court. Continue reading →
I wrote Climate Honesty around the time U.S. Senator James Inhofe brought a snowball to work in an attempt to deny the existence of climate change. My song is not addressed to the senator—I have no words for him—but rather to those who want to believe what people like him have to say, not only on this subject but on any where it is comfortable yet irresponsible to be ignorant.
Excerpt sung by Margaret Streeter, Crystal Tung, Julia Tang and Diana Hill. Conducted by Evelyn Troester DeGraf:
This work was composed while living on the large and mostly rural island of Lantau, in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. In recent years the Lantau landscape has undergone dramatic transformations—tourism and transportation developments that can be seen from space, and an exponentially increasing population—with more changes planned for its future. Continue reading →
for mezzo-soprano, flute, viola, contrabass and prepared piano
This song cycle is my response to eight surrealist works by René Magritte, whose famous The Treachery of Images highlights the impossibility of art to truly reflect reality. Magritte described his creations as “images which conceal nothing [and] evoke mystery… [they do] not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either; it is unknowable.” I have tried to capture the same spirit of mystery in both the words and the music. Continue reading →
This work’s origins can be traced back to a contemplative neighborhood walk, at a time when I struggled to balance my own needs with those of others who I care about. These words “arrived in mind” as I walked. The music I wrote later was influenced by my thoughts about the relationship between a community and its individual members: the 20-32 sopranos and altos of the choir begin by independently repeating short melodic phrases, each singer making autonomous decisions about tempo and rubato, listening carefully as she negotiates her role within the group. Continue reading →