It Perched for Vespers Nine

for orchestra
Piccolo 2 Flutes 2 Oboes 2 Bassoons Contrabassoon (optional) 2 Clarinets in Bb Bass Clarinet 4 French Horns 3 Trumpets in C 2 Trombones Bass Trombone Tuba 3 Percussionists Timpani Harp Piano /Celesta [one player]
Strings

Duration: 11 minutes
Commissioned by The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

Contact Bill Holab Music for a perusal recording and score.

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.
— Louis L’Amour, Lonely on the Mountain

Program Note

My wife’s grandfather was an extraordinary man. He was an immigrant who walked around quoting poetry and whistling tunes from his childhood in Scotland. Like a character from a movie he always seemed to pull just the right verse for the occasion.

In the spring of 2007, he fell into a coma following a severe stroke. After weeks of being in this state he awoke and said:

In mist or cloud…
…On mast or shroud
It perched for Vespers nine.
Whiles all the night…
…Through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moon-shine.

These were the final words of a man who always chose the right words. Within the hour he was gone.

Not recognizing the verse, I immediately ran to Google to decipher what message the old man could have been delivering.

The verse is from the famous poem of condemnation and redemption, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poem is the story of a mariner condemned to travel the earth telling his tale of hubris and punishment in search of redemption. The mariner shot an albatross for no other reason than he felt like it and then suffered the wrath of both death and living-death for his gall.

The verse my wife’s grandfather quoted is the verse immediately before the one containing the ill-fated murder of the albatross. As they say, the calm before the coming storm.

My work entitled, “It perched for Vespers nine,” on a surface level engages the imagery from the verse itself. But at the emotional core of the work is my trying to work out what my wife’s Pop Pop might have been trying to tell us about what awaits us “In mist or cloud”.

It perched for Vespers nine was commissioned by The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras and premiered on February 21, 2011.