An Undaunted Heart: Songs of Elders was commissioned by the New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor. It was a commission of the Westchester Prize for New Works, and had its premieres in 2003 at the Music Conservatory of Westchester, White Plains, NY, and Shaarei Tikvah Congregation, Scarsdale, NY.
I was inspired to write this piece by my relationships with my elders—family, friends, and members of my community. The texts are from varied sources, including quotes from the Psalms on aging and honoring the old; by the American Marc Kaminsky, a humorous poem on a man’s vigorous request to his children to give him grandchildren; by the 12th- century Japanese poet Saigyo, on observing the passage of time in one’s aging body and in the natural world; by the American poet Mark Van Doren, on an old couple and their uncanny intuition of each other’s joys and pains; and by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, using the imagery of the “ocean of peace” that lies ahead of him as he encounters the “great unknown.”
The texts are meant to reflect a variety of experience in the aging process, and yet to create a strong sense of continuity for the piece as whole. The music is quite varied as well, responding to the texts such as the wild humor of the Kaminsky, the gentle humor of the Van Doren, and the ecstatic feeling of the Tagore, and was composed so as to utilize the marvelous technical and expressive resources of Harold Rosenbaum and the New York Virtuoso Singers.
***Note: Final movement of this piece, The ocean of peace lies ahead of me, is published by G. Schirmer/AMP
AN UNDAUNTED HEART:
1. From the Bible (Psalm 37:25; Leviticus 19:32; Psalm 92:15; Psalm 71:9)
Naar hayiti v’gam zakanti.
I was young and now grow old.
Mip’nei seiva takum, v’hadarta p’nei zakein.
Rise before the old, and honor the face of an elder.
Od y’nuvun b’seiva d’sheinim v’raananim yihyu.
They shall still flourish in old age, they shall be ever fresh and fragrant.
Al tashlicheini b’eit zikna, kichlot kochi al taazveini.
Do not cast me off in old age—when my strength fails, do not forsake me.
2. Mark Kaminsky (American, b. 1943): “Dancing Bear”
My father, when his sons and daughters
visit his table, bringing freshly picked
husbands and wives, sits at the head
like a man who’s come into his place
and is drunk with his triumph. He jumps
up and pulls each one of us to him
into a great wet bear hug, and cries:
Bring me grandchildren! Go home
and get me some grandchildren!
Quick! I want them
to get me greatgrandchildren before I die.
And my mother, trying to make him
act like a grown-up, cannot,
during the whole time he dances around us,
get him back on the leash.
3. Saigyo (Japanese, 1118-1190): “While noticing how time”
While noticing how time
Has bent my body’s silhouette
Cast in the moonlight…
Away off in the distance the moon
Sank closer to the world’s rim.
4. Mark van Doren (American, 1894-1973): “Old Man, Old Woman”
Old man, if he cares much
When old woman is achesome, gives
No sign to strangers; even when
She staggers, seems not to notice
But does, and old woman knows it
In the odd way of animals
That watch each other incessantly.
Such tenderness is in these two,
Each of them sees everything
Outside, inside the other: old
Man, old woman suffer and then
Feel good together, their hearts equal,
Their eyes veteran, missing no
Least message, morning or evening,
Winter or summer, during or after
Pain—oh, dear, plenty of that.
5. Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali, 1861-1941), “The ocean of peace lies ahead of me”
The ocean of peace lies ahead of me.
Sail the boat, O pilot
You are my constant companion now.
Take me in your lap.
Along the journey to the infinite
The pole star alone will shine.
Giver of Freedom
Set me free.
May your forgiveness and compassion
Be my eternal resources for the journey—
May the mortal ties fall away,
May the vast universe
Hold me in embrace,
And with an undaunted heart
May I come to know the Great Unknown.