Memories of Self-Isolation

2022 – for choir, soloists and chamber ensemble – 8 movements – 42 minutes

Performing Forces

SATB Chorus
Soprano Soloist
Mezzo Soprano Soloist
Woodwind Quartet
Percussion (vibraphone, tubular bells)
String Quartet
Double Bass

Premiere Performance

World Premiere: Nov 12, 2022, Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver Bach Choir

Programme Notes

When the Vancouver Bach Choir and I began conversations around composing a cantata for them, I was interested in using this work to explore perspectives and challenges faced by a cross-section of society as a result of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with VBC, we secured works of poetry that were composed during the pandemic, by writers from different parts of the world, in order to tell this story.

As someone who had composed music during that tumultuous time, I thought it would be interesting to explore how the recent and on-going impacts of the pandemic might affect our perspectives on the future of our world. The poignancy of having a communal gathering of live musicians coming together to explore important themes around healing and sharing was impactful to me. From a personal standpoint, these themes had even more impact as I contracted COVID while composing this work. I then understood first-hand many of the hopes, dreams and fears that were being expressed in the words.

Movement 1 is an instrumental overture. I wanted the chamber ensemble to evoke a sense of unease and urgency – something many of us felt at the start of the pandemic.

Movement 2, ‘I Want to Remember’, is a setting of text by Vlada Mars. It is sweet and gentle. In those early days of the pandemic, we all yearned for what had just slipped through our fingers.

Movement 3, ‘April 7, 2020’, aims to capture how life became a daily grind in those first weeks as we lived in self-isolation. Jane Covernton’s text in the first person captures our racing minds as we question everything we never questioned before about life. Having this movement feature a soprano solo helps capture that individuality in our inner-most thoughts.

Movement 4, ‘COVID Positive’, is for unaccompanied chorus (SSATB). Lesley-Anne Evans’ text evokes the apprehension many of us felt during the pandemic. The constant repetition of the words “I am COVID Positive” by the lower voices symbolizes the constant worry we faced over the fear of getting sick or dying from the virus.

Movement 5, ‘Ode to Distance’, is another first-hand account. Athena Kildegaard’s personal text, as communicated through the mezzo-soprano soloist, conveys how our perspective on our connection to what and who surrounds us changed greatly during the pandemic.

Movement 6, ‘Largesse’. I divided Parvaneh Eshghi’s passionate text into 2 parts, the first of which expresses a yearning for something more in life, followed by a burst of energy that conveys the possibilities of great things that are still possible.

Movement 7, ‘This Too Shall Pass’ is this cantata’s epic movement taking us on a journey from feeling distant, to apprehensive, to elegiac and finally determined…but in a calm way. Yewande Akinse’s text conveys many of the perspectives we were feeling during these troubling times.

Movement 8, ‘All Our Hands’, the finale, is intended to remind us that we all have a hand in getting through this. Russell Blalack’s lyrics are an ode to the feeling that we can overcome anything as long as we work together and take care of each other.

Such a large-scale project does not happen without the support of many individuals. I am forever grateful to Leslie Dala for his invitation to compose the work and his collaborative spirit, Gillian Hunter-Gibbs for making this premiere performance happen, and Alice Dearden, Sarah Jo Kirsch and Fabiana Katz for their invaluable insights during the composition process.

Commissioned by the Vancouver Bach Family of Choirs.

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