Rain Songs (2016)
for SATB Chorus and Orchestra
Text by Mary Austin
Duration: 8 min.
Dedication: for the 80th anniversary of the Harvard Summer Chorus
Commission: Commissioned by the Harvard Summer Chorus and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Publisher: Soundspells Productions
Rain Songs (2016) for SATB chorus and orchestra was commissioned for the 80th anniversary of the Harvard Summer Chorus. It was premiered on July 29 and 31, 2016 by the Harvard Summer Chorus and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Andrew Clark; first at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and then at the Monadnock Music Festival (Peterborough, New Hampshire).
Mary Hunter Austin (1868–1934) was a significant nature writer on the subject of the American Southwest. She published a number of writings (non-fiction, novels, poems, and plays) that are the fruit of her study of American Indian culture in the Mojave Desert. The texts for this work are drawn from her collection The American Rhythm (1923), which contains what she termed “re-expressions” in English based on American Indian sources and ideas. Her work thus consists largely of new poems that partake of both style and character of the sources.
Austin also believed that aspects of American Indian culture were in danger of being lost and should thus be preserved via writings. With the publication of The American Rhythm, she urged fellow writers to take on these styles of songs and poems as models for their own writing.
The poems used as the text for this work are classified as “rain songs.” They are thus inspired by invocations intended to call forth and celebrate the life-giving power of rain. The music seeks to amplify this ceremonial (and almost utilitarian) atmosphere with a directness and transparency. The work begins with an extended orchestral rainscape. The three invocations then follow without pause.