I Breathe

Double Choir [SATB choir, and SATB choir]

Choir one may be performed as a Quartet, or Small Ensemble with solos

Text by Petrarch and Natalie Fasheh

Publisher: TBD, email for score {not available till Sept. 2021}

12 min duration approximately

Thanks go to David Almond and the Almond family for their financial contributions to this project, and to the Kirkland Choral Society (Kirkland, WA; Dr. Glenn R. Gregg, Music Director) which contributed to the project financially, and will give the USA premiere.

Notes from the composer:

“I Breathe” is a work for double choir, built on ideas of binaries: old and new, homophonic and polyphonic, stable and unstable; “I Breathe” incorporates an earlier work of mine: “Breathe”. The juxtaposition of styles, texts and gestures is highlighted throughout “I Breathe” through the use of both modern and past poetry, musical ideas inspired by past eras (Medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance), and juxtaposition of instrumentation: responsorial phrases between choirs, small groups and/or soloists. The work uses these layers of imagery and dialogue to capture the feelings of emotions ranging from hope to despair, and everything in-between that we are facing due to COVID 19. The commissioned poem by Natalie Fasheh exquisitely captures the atmosphere of both the unsettledness, and acceptance that we (I) face(ed) during these times. She both responds to the Petrarch text (used in “Breathe”), and then reaches beyond it.

Program note:

“I Breathe” is in a three part form.

Part one features responsorial phrases alternating virtuosic, florid lines, with block style homophony. There are phrases that may be sung as solos. Part one is a metaphor for the fear, strife and uncertainty of life exemplified through angular melodies, and an evocative, dissonant harmonic palette.

Part two sees the intersection of both choirs centred around “Breathe”. Choir one sings along side choir two, at times in unison, harmony or in juxtaposition. In some ways, the middle movement “Breathe” is an antidote to the tension and angularity of part one; a literal and metaphoric exhalation and collective breath of resolution (hope).

Note from the poet:

What are we faced with when one is suffering from an illness that is beyond our global knowledge and capacity of physical healing? How has society time and time again, in such situations, grappled with the moments of accepting death, versus fighting for life? What kind of hope does it yield? Inspired by David Almond’s story of him and his Mother’s COVID-19 experience. The moment in the story that stood out to me was when his mother did not want to fight for her life, contrary to what David and his family wanted. In this poem I attempted to empathetically explore the possible perspective of both the ill mother and her son, on pain, life, death, hope, love, and courage, in such moments of suffering from this mysterious deadly illness.

Poet biography:
Natalie Fasheh is a Palestinian-Jordanian emerging singer, poet, community-engaged artist, and choral musician. She leads vocal ensemble experiences rooted in empowerment, cultural awareness, and activism. Natalie works with singing communities of varying ages and lifestyles as a choir conductor, teaching artist, and mentor for young people. She is the co-founder and co- director of Mosaic Music Collective: joining newcomers and long-standing residents through intergenerational, multicultural song. Natalie writes poetry on themes of cultural identity, nature, and humanity. She shares Arabic folk songs as a guest singer, clinician, and choral arranger. Natalie has most recently been entwining all aspects of her artistry in designing and leading social justice-based collaborative choral composition projects.

Natalie looks forward to continuing artistically celebrating humanity’s diversity and common- threads, expanding her understanding of vocal music’s place in sociocultural dialogue and bridge-building, and exploring the multifaceted relationship between community-engaged art and choral art.

Composer biography:
Dr. Matthew Emery is a Canadian composer who “writes with an honesty which enchants” (Vancouver Sun). His music has been performed in twenty-six countries, and recent performance venues include the Great Wall of China, the White House and the Musikverein. Matthew has received over forty commissions and his music has been performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Chamber Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, National Youth Orchestra of Canada, National Youth Choir of Canada, European Union Youth Orchestra, Orchestra London, the Art of Time Ensemble, Rolston String Quartet, Dennis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra, and the Bach Music Festival of Canada Orchestra.


Text by Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374): Trans. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1903

I saw how tears had left their weary traces Within those eyes that once the sun outshone,
I heard those lips, in low and plaintive moan, Breathe words to stir the mountains from their places. Love, wisdom, courage, tenderness, and truth Made in their mourning strains more high and dear Than ever wove soft sounds for mortal ear;
And heaven seemed listening in such saddest ruth The very leaves upon the bough to soothe,
Such sweetness filled the blissful atmosphere.

I Breathe

Written by Natalie Fasheh

Commissioned by Chronos Vocal Ensemble for the 2020-20201 project “Breathe”. Dedicated to David Almond, his mother, family, the world’s suffering COVID-19 patients, living and

passed, and their loved ones.

December 1, 2020