On the beach at night

Unison Choir, SAB choir and SATB choir with Piano

10 min duration

Commissioned by the Kingston Chamber Choir

Text: Walt Whitman (public domain)

on the beach at night score cover

The work is divided into three sections. The opening movement “On the beach at night” sets the tone and atmosphere for the work. It uses the SAB and SATB choirs with piano. The flowing bisbigliando-like piano gesture lays a groundwork for the music which explores various textures from within the ensemble. Some singers have non textual lines (ahs) while others sing poetry. Each phrase varies in its instrumentation creating new colours as altos of one ensemble are joined by sopranos of the other, and so on. At other times, the choirs sing in a more responsorial fashion (call and response) back to each other.

“Weep Not” is an a cappella motet sung by the SATB choir. The middle movement offers moments of repose and inward thought. The music alternates hymn-like chorale writing with more improvisatory chant like gestures.

The third section “Something there is” is a rhapsodic culmination of contrapuntal lines which weave and swirl around as if to emulate the night sky. The Unison choir joins the other two ensembles in this movement, singing an ostinato gesture on which the music evolves and builds.

The work speaks to the transcendent nature of humanity. In the poem, the girl sees possible limitations in her world. The father sees beyond these limitations, he sees the infinite possibilities. The “something more immortal” is the hope we have in the world, the hope that a child can, and will grow up to see beyond limitations. The depth of the poem is visualized using the flickering clouds and night sky, musically this is captured through the flowing piano gesture and weaving contrapuntal vocal lines.

Text: (adapted by the composer, presented here in unabridged form).

On the beach at night,
Stands a child with her father, Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading, Lower sullen and fast athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends large and calm the lord-star Jupiter,
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades.

From the beach the child holding the hand of her father, Those burial-clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all, Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears,
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky, they devour the stars only in apparition,
Jupiter shall emerge, be patient, watch again another night, the Pleiades shall emerge, They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they endure,
The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine.

Then dearest child mournest thou only for Jupiter? Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,) Something there is more immortal even than the stars, (Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,) Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.