In Their Flight

(Mark Doty)

Year: 2006

Instrumentation: sop, mezzo, violin, cello

Duration: 6 minutes

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Program Notes

Commissioned by One World Symphony to compose a chamber work to start off a concert to honor the memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11, the next day found me in the poetry section of Barnes & Noble, picking out book after book, searching for a living NYC poet and a poem.   Fortunately, I had only to search through the Ds – when I found the perfect poem in a slim volume of wonderful poems by the poet Mark Doty.   In Their Flight is a remarkably poignant poem, whose images brought me right back to that day.

The morning of 9/11, I was at a meeting in mid-town, but eventually made my way back to my office in downtown Brooklyn.   From my 6th floor window, I watched thousands of sheets of paper (which earlier had been on someone’s desk – someone like me – sitting in an office working) fly by like birds, having been carried over the bay in the arms of the wind.   When I read Doty’s words about “souls, newly set free, wheeling in the air over the site of their last engagements…like one of those autumn flocks of sparrows” – I knew I had found my poem. And whatever really will be the end of us all, I want to believe that those thousands of innocents, as Mr. Doty puts it so beautifully, are forever “incorporated into a radiant vitality without ceasing…”

The text is excerpted from Mr. Doty’s somewhat longer poem.   As in much of my music, the textures are influenced by the sound of fluid, contrapuntal voicings heard in early music. I attempted to capture something of the wheeling and turning in the air of a cloud of birds in flight in the melismatic flurries of the violin and cello, over which the voices, in slower motions, sing Mr. Doty’s extraordinary text. Hopefully, my music adds to what Mr. Doty has already accomplished – creating a connection between us and those who have been lost, not only in memory, but now, feeling perhaps in the sound of the wind, “lots of spirits blowing around today.”

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