Sametz sets Alaskan poet Susan Campbell’s beautiful poem of nature. The solo violin soars over the choral texture.

Steven Sametz Publications
distributed by NoteNova


2015

Commissioned by the Alaska Chamber Singers, David Hagen, conductor
in celebration of their 30th season


I am a collector of poetry. So when David Hagen, director of the Alaska Chamber Singers, asked me to compose a piece for their thirtieth season, I revisited a volume in my library entitled PoetryALASKAwomen: Top of the World, where I re-encountered Susan Campbell’s beautifulpoem, Litany For A Year.

I immediately thought it was a good match and I contacted Susan to get a little more background about the poem. She was very gracious and explained that, for her, the idea of the “litany” was to imbue the ordinary events of our lives with a certain sacredness which arises when we are more mindful in our lives.

Poets – or composers – can’t foresee how their works will “land” with readers or listeners. Responses to art are personal, opening a dialogue with the artist and the individual. I read Litany For A Year during a time when my mother suffers from dementia. Many in our culture know this circumstance: conversations loop with the same information again and again. While it’s a pleasant notion to project that my mother is “living in the moment,” it is nonetheless difficult to watch someone who had been so capable of juggling minute details of schedules and priorities of multiple family members reach for even the most basic details of date, or season, or year.

Campbell’s poem touched a chord for me in this context: our ability to look back and see where we’ve been – our memories – grounds and defines us. The only change I made in titling the piece was to put “For A Year” in parentheses, since for me, the quality of the poem – and thinking of my mother’s condition – gave the litany a quality of a lifetime of memories. The last line – “then you remember” – took on a particular poignancy as I read the poem.

The musical setting takes many modulations: turns and tangents in a mind not quite settled. The close wordlessly drifts through a rapid series of modulations, finding rest in a tonal resolution foreshadowed at the opening, a kind of closure.

– Steven Sametz

— Susan Cambell, (Fairbanks, Alaska)

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