vocal music

Nearly Terminal

3 songs for voice & piano [4’]; words Eleni Zisimatos; 2024.

X Nearly Terminal

3 songs for voice & piano [4’]; words Eleni Zisimatos; 2024.

Commissioner: George Elliott Clarke with the assistance of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Premiere: Alex Samaras, baritone, with pianist Helen Becqué, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Toronto, May 23, 2024 

 

Strange the sun behind
Strange glass

It amounts to mirrors, tricks
The business

Of You.

Quiet in the field
Everything quiet

Beneath

 

 

Memories of something
Deep under the white
Like a frozen fur
Detached from a body

 

The memory of a body

 

 

Forward, onward
Straight ahead
Like a horse
Like a sad story
Like a heart transplant Like a bomb

Forward to the very last
The casket of judgement
And there
Is

— Eleni Zisimatos, from Nearly Terminal (2019)

Magna Mors

voice & piano [2’]; words Corrado Paina; 2024.

X Magna Mors

voice & piano [2’]; words Corrado Paina; 2024.

Commissioner: George Elliott Clarke with the assistance of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Premiere: Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo-soprano with pianist Helen Becqué, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Toronto, May 23, 2024 

 

MAGNA MORS

How can you be doubtful and let life lock the door to freedom
Let death in
She is beautiful

standing there
with that dress no wife will ever wear She has chosen you and you linger?

Corrado Paina

Siamanto’s Grief

voice & piano [2’]; words Keith Garebian; 2024.

X Siamanto’s Grief

voice & piano [2’]; words Keith Garebian; 2024.

Commissioner: George Elliott Clarke with the assistance of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Premiere: Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo-soprano with pianist Helen Becqué, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Toronto, May 23, 2024 

Siamanto’s Grief

Grief is a homeless dog slavering over a meatless bone.

Grief invades the darkness of ditches where the homeless huddle.

Grief is April rain spitting on skinned corpses, spring of somnolent ashes.

Grief is a sky of falling stars smashing church steeples.

Spits on justice
after the piling of bones in seizures of autumn.

Your grief was ecstasy in blazes of poetry lighting up a lowering sky.

 

— Keith Garebian, Poetry is Blood

 

 

Overture to Understanding

voice & piano [2’]; words Antonia Facciponte; 2024.

X Overture to Understanding

voice & piano [2’]; words Antonia Facciponte; 2024.

Commissioner: George Elliott Clarke with the assistance of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Premiere: Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo-soprano with pianist Helen Becqué, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Toronto, May 23, 2024 

 

Overture

Understanding

Standing under a bridge, you are blind, eyelids sutured

over iris by the smooth, starless underbelly

of infrastructure
that protects perception

from possibility, cages mischievous magpies

of creativity
in mud. An unknown

lunar voice gleams like lamplight. Listen

for the moon’s monthly melody

serenading sheen ‘cross a cobblestone road:

its beam will beckon
your vision’s transgression—

climb atop the bridge
to yowl aubades that jailbreak

into an upside-down verse of understanding.

 

— Antonia Facciponte, To Make a Bridge

 

A Wise Man Once Told Me

mezzo-soprano & piano [4’]; words Armand Garnet Ruffo; 2023.

X A Wise Man Once Told Me

mezzo-soprano & piano [4’]; words Armand Garnet Ruffo; 2023.

Commissioner:
George Elliott Clarke
Premiere: Laura Swankey and Juliet Palmer, The Canadian Music Centre, December 15, 2023.

A Wise Man Once Told Me

for Wilfred Peltier

by Armand Garnet Ruffo, Treaty# (Wolsak & Wyn)

 

When the knock comes

to your door

you will not be there to answer it.

We have been undressing too long

it is time

to put our clothes back on.

You take the water that is still

and the water that flows

and all the things in the water

bring them back here

within you

where they belong.

You take the land

and the rocks, and the trees

and all those animals

and the insects

who live in those forests –

you bring all that back too

inside of you.

Then you take the birds

the air

the clouds

the stars, the sky

and the whole universe

that too belongs

inside of you.

And then we take all

of the people in the world

and every language

in the world

and bring that too back

inside of you

where it rightfully belongs.

When you have done that

you will be fully clothed.

And each foot will know

exactly

where to fall

and you cannot make a mistake.

When the knock comes

to your door

you will be there

to answer it.

Istanbul Meditation

mezzo-soprano & piano [5’]; words Yeshim Ternar; 2023.

X Istanbul Meditation

mezzo-soprano & piano [5’]; words Yeshim Ternar; 2023.

Commissioner: George Elliott Clarke
Premiere: Laura Swankey and Juliet Palmer, The Canadian Music Centre, December 15, 2023.

From The Book and the Veil: Escape from an Istanbul Harem, by Yeshim Ternar (Montréal: Véhicule Press, 1994)

VII.

Now, I, Yeshim, who’s fled every office chaise,

From East to West, have sauntered East many times:

A Turkish-born writer, Montréalaise,

I hear, in Mont-Royal, Istanbul’s chimes,

 

And recall instantly that Turks love the buttercup,

Narcissus, dandelions, and camomile

All sprouting wildly in Istanbul, all non-stop,

All along the Bosphorus, whose waters rile

 

Houses lizarding hazardous banks, so mad floods

Wash out foundations.  But the fixed standard

Of Beauty in Istanbul is unpredictable moods:

Of water, of women.  And so Love meanders….

 

I think of Zeyneb, her eyes sleepy but not dull.

She tells of opium pills that helped mothers

And wives pull through Ramadan, treat it as a lull,

Swallowing drugs sold in thin-gold covers;

 

Hallowing pills with varying thicknesses 

Of gold coating, so that ladies could float above

All cares for husbands, lovers, businesses,

And even look down upon—frown upon—Love.

 

Barbie Sounds Out

mezzo-soprano & piano [3’]; words Giovanna Riccio; 2023.

X Barbie Sounds Out

mezzo-soprano & piano [3’]; words Giovanna Riccio; 2023.

Commissioner: George Elliott Clarke
Premiere: Laura Swankey and Juliet Palmer, The Canadian Music Centre, December 15, 2023.

Barbie Sounds Out

Giovanna Riccio from Plastic’s Republic

1

babes play

babes say ba ba Ba rrr b e

be a ba be be be a bo db y

be a bar bar Bar bie

i.e. bare ly a bod y be

be no body

2

Barbie breast bar barbarian nipples

nipples be a no-no

ra-ra- ra no bra no brainer

know no nipples on breasts

now know breasts bear no nipples,

know how busty Barbie be no B-cup cupcake

Barbie bar-hops big-breasted

in bed or bar nipple less

nip nip nipples? yes! pin-up Barbie no less

3

barring the BRRR of barbed air-waves

Barbie babble in ear

her barbed scat on air

air on a B string

airheads put on airs

hair-heads rarely hear

how barbarian girls reared on hair play

buy Barbie babble

be nobody nobody

buy Barbie and be

rabbi Barbie or A-rab Barbie

or Barbara-Ann bomb, bomb, bomb

bomb, bombing Iran

4

grab Barbie by the waist

no way

Barbie brags a barely-there waist

waist-away be done

waste-away be none

 

Oh, rain!

mezzo-soprano & piano [3’]; words Mansour Noorbakhsh; 2023.

X Oh, rain!

mezzo-soprano & piano [3’]; words Mansour Noorbakhsh; 2023.

Commissioner:
George Elliott Clarke
Premiere: Laura Swankey and Juliet Palmer, The Canadian Music Centre, December 15, 2023.

Oh, Rain!
Mansour Noorbakhsh from Vital Signs

Oh, Rain!
I would continue my rain dance in the rain.
I would pray within my prayer.
I would wish within my wishes.
I would stop running in zigzags.
I would drop and rise,
and rise and drop.
I wish I could live as a shared wish.
I wish I could share my wishes.
I would see with my lips.
I would speak with my eyes.
I would fall as a raindrop
and burn to the end as a burned brand.
I would breathe the love
I would breathe the love…
breathe the love…

I was looking at You, Woman—silently,
while you were hugging the girl quietly.
Did phoenix cry thus?

Choreography of Trauma

for flute, clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, violin, cello, choir & video projection [20′].

X Choreography of Trauma

for flute, clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, violin, cello, choir & video projection [20′].

Commission: Continuum Contemporary Music with funds from the Ontario Arts Council

Premiere: Christine and the Element Choir with the Continuum Ensemble, February 9, 2020 at the Music Gallery, 918 Bathurst, Toronto

Choreography of Trauma embraces the virtuosity and emotional extremes of the Trauma Bay. Listening and observing one Saturday evening in March 2018, I was mesmerized by the complex choreography of the trauma team working to bring patients back from almost certain death. Choreography of Trauma is my musical homage: an intermingling of the hundreds of small gestures, strings of numbers, unexpected sounds and words that save a life.

The verbatim text is excerpted from observation at Sunnybrook’s Trauma Bay, March 10, 2018 and a follow-up interview with Trauma Team Leader Dr. Bourke Tillmann.

Choreography of Trauma was commissioned by Continuum and funded by The Ontario Arts Council. Thanks to Drs. Avery Nathens and Bourke Tillmann for welcoming me into the controlled chaos of Sunnybrook’s Trauma Bay during my Ontario Arts Council residency. An extra shout-out to Bourke for sharing his musical passion as a drummer.

Inside Us

for solo vocalist, choir, audio tracks, multiple video projections, 3 televisions, and turntable [45′].

X Inside Us

for solo vocalist, choir, audio tracks, multiple video projections, 3 televisions, and turntable [45′].


Commission:
Western Front with funds from the Canada Council for the Arts
Premiere: Laura Swankey with DB Boyko and the VOICE OVER mind Choir, February 8, 2018 at the Grand Luxe Hall, Western Front, Vancouver
Recording: Laura Swankey, Christine Duncan & The Element Choir, February 9, 2020, presented by Continuum and Urbanvessel, Toronto’s Music Gallery

Inside Us presents ten stories gathered from “the edges of life” — moments of awareness of heartbeat and breath. These sung stories are punctuated by two interludes, improvisations by the soloist using diagnostic ultrasound recordings on a custom cut disc, giving voice to the rhythms of the body’s veins and arteries. The video connects inner and outer worlds in a visual diary which ripples, flutters, bubbles, drops and flows.

Inside Us was commissioned and premiered in 2018 by DB Boyko with the VOICE OVER mind Choir at Vancouver’s Western Front with funding from The Canada Council for the Arts.

Production Credits
Video, music & sound: Juliet Palmer
Backing track vocals: Laura Swankey
Recording engineer: Jean Martin
Original stories: Diana Stewart-Imbert, Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, DB Boyko, Soressa Gardner, Donna Lytle and Carol Sawyer (ed. Palmer)
Ultrasound diagnostic recordings: Paul Sheeran, Peter Burns and Caroline Maloney (Sunnybrook Research Institute)
Artistic residency, Sunnybrook Research Institute: funded by The Ontario Arts Council

Performers (2020)
Laura Swankey, vocal soloist
Christine Duncan, conductor, with singers: Brooklyn Bohach, Emma Cava, Meghan Gilhespy, Sylvo Frank, Andrea Kuzmich, D. Alex Meeks, Olivia Shortt, Lieke van der Voort, Jackson Welchner

Quarry

for soprano, choir, picc, alto fl, ob, 2 bass cl, 3 perc [23′] 2017.

X Quarry

for soprano, choir, picc, alto fl, ob, 2 bass cl, 3 perc [23′] 2017.

Commissioned by Continuum with funds from the Ontario Arts Council
Premiere: June 3, 2017 at Evergreen Brick Works, as part of FOUR LANDS, co-produced by Continuum Contemporary Music & Jumblies Theatre

“Everything stays the same,
Everything is yet to be discovered.”

Quarry excavates layers of memory and place through song and sound. The lyrics intertwine words from community members across Canada into a dreamscape that hovers between the present, the past and the future. What do we discover if we dig deep — beneath the ground where we stand, back into the bedrock of time, below the tangle of our everyday thoughts?

Vermilion Songs

Tenor with piano trio [ 15′] 2016.

X Vermilion Songs

Tenor with piano trio [ 15′] 2016.
Composed for Simon O’Neill and NZTrio with funds from CreativeNZ

Vermilion Songs brings together six Emily Dickinson’s poems in a cycle that offers a compelling inner perspective on the human body: from breath, the circulation of the blood, varieties of pain, to the last moments of life itself. While human-scaled and engaged with the viscerality of the everyday, her work simultaneously conjures the epic and the immense — cosmic rhythms and the ineffability of consciousness. The cycle moves from an acknowledgement of the insights of science, through contemplation of pain, disorientation, a return to consciousness, acceptance of the fragility of existence, to a final song of death.

The song cycle is inspired by sound worlds I encountered as an Ontario Arts Council Artist-in-the-Community at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Thanks to medical biophysicist Dr. Peter Burns, I was able to eavesdrop on the soundscapes of the inner body, captured by ultrasound. Simultaneously precise and evocative they range from the constrained intensity of vessels leading to the brain, to the cavernous resonance of blood washing back into the heart from the liver. In bringing together the operatic voice, Dickinson’s evocative lyrics, the sonic possibilities of piano trio and the high-tech soundscapes documented by bioacoustics, I hope to offer listeners a fresh glimpse into the poetry of the human body.

Burble

Solo mezzo with mixed chorus [15’] 2015.

X Burble

Solo mezzo with mixed chorus [15’] 2015.
Premiere:
 Laura Swankey & The Burble Choir with conductor Christine Duncan, Singing River, Pan Am Path, Lower Don Trail, Toronto, July 4-5, 2015.
Text: Anna Chatterton

 

Burble gives voice to the Wonscotonach/Don River, one of Canada’s most polluted rivers.

My curves are straight

My mouth is a drain

Spewing grease and trash

Cars roar and ignore me

I am deaf from the din…

Dreaming of Trees

Mixed voices [12’] 2015.

X Dreaming of Trees

Mixed voices [12’] 2015.

Premiere: Alex Samaras & GREX, Singing River, Pan Am Path, Lower Don Trail, Toronto, July 5, 2015.
Text: Nicholas Power

walking at night in the woods

between my childhood home and the river

fully awake and wondering

in a dream both strange and familiar

particular trees reach out like lovers…

 

Available on the CD Juliet Palmer: rivers

Stone’s Secret

SATB [4’] 2015.

X Stone’s Secret

SATB [4’] 2015.
Commissioner:
Victoria College, University of Toronto
Premiere: The choirs of Victoria and Emmanuel Colleges, Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto, October 14, 2015.
Text: Margaret Avison (excerpted from Stone’s Secret, Sunblue, Lancelot Press, 1978)

stones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otter-smooth boulder

lies under rolling

black river-water

stilled among frozen

hills and the still unbreathed

blizzards aloft;

silently, icily, is probed

stone’s secret.

 

Word has arrived that

peace will brim up, will come

like a river and the

glory…like a flowing stream.”

So.

Some of all people will

wondering wait

until this very stone

utters.

 

Todas Las Tardes

mezzo-soprano & piano [2’]; words Federico Garcia Lorca; 2015.

X Todas Las Tardes

mezzo-soprano & piano [2’]; words Federico Garcia Lorca; 2015.

Commissioner:
 Soundstreams Canada
Premiere: Krisztina Szabo & Stephanie Chua, The Gardiner Museum, Toronto, September 18, 2015.
Text: Federico Garcia Lorca

Program note:

How to set a portion of the Ghazal for a Dead Child by Garcia Lorca without hearing echoes of George Crumb’s version? I purposefully didn’t refresh my memory of this vocal classic, focussing instead on the first stanza of the poem, interpreting it as a quietly obsessive rumination on loss. The singer and pianist are both called upon to step outside their comfort zone through body percussion and vocalization. In response to the lyrical devastation of the poem, I chose to work with numerical patterns based on syllabic and visual structures of the text. The result is an emotionally restrained, simple, stripped down setting.

 

Todas las tardes el agua se sienta a conversar con sus amigos
Every afternoon the water sits down to talk things over with its friends

 

Solid Gold

soprano + 1 1 1 1 / 1 1 1 / pf perc / str [15′] 2013.

X Solid Gold

soprano + 1 1 1 1 / 1 1 1 / pf perc / str [15′] 2013.

Commissioner: Orchestra Wellington
Funder: Creative New Zealand
Premiere: soprano Madeleine Pierard with Orchestra Wellington and conductor Marc Taddei, The Opera House, Wellington, September 8, 2013.
Program note:

Solid Gold riffs on mainstream culture’s obsession with the Number One Hit. Challenging the straitjacket of copyright law, I take as my starting point the titles of over 30 years of number one pop songs. Cracking open this shared archive of pop memory, I hope to unearth the heart of the love song. Collaging selected titles into new and original lyrics, my creative quest echoes the sentiment of British-American band Foreigner’s 1984 hit “I want to to know what love is”. In this maelstrom of romantic yearning, what does love mean? And who exactly is the singer? Is (s)he “Venus, Jezebel, Lady Madonna — Lola, Nikita, Sylvia’s Mother”? Or is gender itself in question? Fernando? Pinnochio? Nelson Mandela?

Dopey and The Moon

children’s chorus SATB [8′] 2010.

X Dopey and The Moon

children’s chorus SATB [8′] 2010.

Commissioner: Viva Youth Singers
Funder: Viva Youth Singers
Premiere:  Viva Youth Singers, Trinity-St.Pauls, Toronto, May 16, 2010.
Text: Dennis Lee

Program note:

These two songs for children’s chorus draw on the beloved Canadian poet Dennis Lee’s works for children — Garbage Delight — and adults — Yesno, creating a world which acknowledges distance and pessimism, but also hope and possibility.

The Moon (from Garbage Delight, 1977)

“I see the moon and the moon sees me

And nobody sees as secretly…”

 

Dopey (from Yesno, 2007)

“…mind to the

grindstone, ear to the plough.

 

Hi-

Hoein along with a song:

What home but here?  Whose grubby hands but ours?”

The Province of Impossible

three singers playing theremin, hand-held percussion, shamisen and clarinet [35′] 2007.

X The Province of Impossible

three singers playing theremin, hand-held percussion, shamisen and clarinet [35′] 2007.

Premiere: Christine Duncan, Aki Takahashi and Juliet Palmer, Voice++ Festival, Victoria, May 12, 2007.
Credits: music Juliet Palmer in collaboration with the performers (Christine Duncan and Aki Takahashi), text Anna Chatterton with additional lyrics in German (Wilhelm Müller) and Japanese (traditional).

Program note:

The Province of Impossible bridges the two worlds of Japanese folksong and Schubert’s Die Winterreise.

The first piano arrived in Japan in 1823, four years before Schubert composed his famous song cycle Die Winterreise (The Winter’s Journey).  Western classical music took firm root following the forcible end to Japan’s isolation during the Meiji Restoration.  Now Yamaha pianos glut the market and Kent Nagano directs the Montréal Symphony Orchestra.  Alongside this Western music invasion, Japanese folk music has stubbornly held fast. This new song cycle finds fresh ground in two powerful yet disparate traditions.

So Long

soprano and chamber orchestra [5′] 2005.

X So Long

soprano and chamber orchestra [5′] 2005.

Commissioner: Open Ears Festival
Funder: The Laidlaw Foundation
Premiere: Patricia O’Callaghan and the Canadian Chamber Ensemble with conductor Dan Warren, Open Ears Festival, Kitchener, April 29, 2005.
Text: Leonard Cohen

Program note:
Both So Long, Marianne and I were born in 1967. Leonard Cohen’s song lodged itself in my brain at an undetermined point somewhere between that first release and the present. The moment that stuck in my mind most clearly was when the back-up singers wiggled their way upwards in the chorus on “Marianne” (a moment which fails to reappear in my own version of the song). Now Marianne’s name has gone, and I hope I have found a way to make the song new. I don’t remember ever hearing the words to the verse I’ve set, but I can imagine Trisha on a window ledge, miles above the traffic, stuttering a song of goodbye. So long. 

gone

unaccompanied chorus SSAATTBB [5′] 2005.

X gone

unaccompanied chorus SSAATTBB [5′] 2005.

Commissioner: Soundstreams Canada
Premiere: Tafelmusik, Soundstreams Canada’s New Voices Choral Workshop, Trinity-St. Pauls, Toronto, January 22, 2005.
Text: Dennis Lee
Program note:

gone is based on one of the fifty-one poems which make up Dennis Lee’s UN (Anansi Press, 2003).

 

Over the Japanese Sea

chamber opera for 2 baritones, bcl, perc, acc + vc [14′] 2003.

X Over the Japanese Sea

chamber opera for 2 baritones, bcl, perc, acc + vc [14′] 2003.

Commissioner: Tapestry New Opera
Funder: Ontario Arts Council
Premiere: Tapestry New Opera with baritones Gregory Dahl & Ian Funk, Tapestry Gala Opening, The Distillery, Toronto, May 24, 2003.
Text: Julie Salverson

Program note:

Ordinary people who carry extraordinary events: Maurice (an office cleaner) and Thomas (an office intern). A normal day. The past is past.

 

Room

mezzo-soprano, clarinet & hurdy-gurdy [8’] 1999.

X Room

mezzo-soprano, clarinet & hurdy-gurdy [8’] 1999.

Commissioner: Bill James and Art in Open Spaces
Funder: The Laidlaw Foundation
Premiere: Vilma Vitols, Juliet Palmer & Martin Arnold, Water Sources 2, Art in Open Spaces, Toronto, July 23, 1999.
Note: music choreographed by Bill James for Shannon Cooney, Dancemakers, Toronto, Canada, November 16-20, 1999.
Program note:

When I dropped by in the springtime, there was a futon in the sphere. Someone had moved in and made it their bedroom. Vilma’s song is inspired by the Beach Boys’ classic tune, ‘In My Room’, along with a little snippet of Schubert’s ‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’ (from Die Winterreise).

‘In my room

No-one sees me, no-one hears me…

Now it’s dark and I’m alone

But I won’t be afraid.’

W is for

2 sopranos, clarinet, trumpet, drum set, keyboard, violin & double bass [9’] 1997, revised 1999.

X W is for

2 sopranos, clarinet, trumpet, drum set, keyboard, violin & double bass [9’] 1997, revised 1999.

Commissioner: Dogs of Desire, Albany Symphony Orchestra
Funder: Albany Symphony Orchestra
Premiere (revised version): Marty Elliott & Susan Lewis sopranos, Michael Lowenstern clarinet, Charles Lazerus trumpet, Danny Tunick drumset, Elizabeth di Felice keyboard, Andrea Schultz violin Maureen Llort double bass, Steve Mackey conductor, Taplin Auditorium, Princeton, October 20, 1999.
Program note:

Living in New York, looking wistfully back to my 1970s New Zealand childhood, my curiosity was sparked as to the origins of Maori action songs — a hybrid form combining traditional movements, borrowed Western melodies and Maori lyrics. Introduced into schools by an enthusiastic physical education specialist in the late 1940’s along with Maori children’s games, it was noted that they were ‘exceedingly good for the body of the pakeha’ (non-Maori). In the 1980s, language nests or kohanga reo further boosted the revival of Maori.

W is for is my response to those early years spent dancing and singing in Maori. The text is an excerpt from a Maori-English dictionary. It begins at waka (canoe) and passes through wakainga (true home, far distant home) and warawara (yearning), arriving finally at wareware — forget, forgotten, forgetful. In a nod to my second language as a new Canadian, the final line comes from Jacques Brel’s ballad ‘On n’oublie rien’ — you forget nothing.

bone-flower

soprano, bass clarinet, viola, accordion and percussion [7’] 1995.

X bone-flower

soprano, bass clarinet, viola, accordion and percussion [7’] 1995.

Premiere: Dana Hanchard soprano, Michael Lowenstern bass clarinet, Mark Zaki viola, Guy Klucevsek accordion, and Danny Tunick percussion. Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, March 1996.

“The systems they learn are nothing but skeletons to them…”
—John Ruskin, Arrows of the Chace (1880)

Ruskin’s words suggest that rigorous formulae, valuable as a starting point, may be overwhelmed by the vigor of life itself.

bone-flower takes its name from a dialect word for daisy, a humble bright flower growing on the bones of the dead.

Soon we’ll all be pushing up the daisies.