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Publisher: LAH Publications

Catalogue Number: LAH 67


Duration: 4:00

Droplets was commissioned by Pro Coro Canada and Michael Zaugg, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor.

I composed Droplets in the summer of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic for Pro Coro Canada’s project to commission eight Edmonton composers to write new choral works for the choral community. Pro Coro video recorded the new works in quartets, recording the full work as well as each individual part as rehearsal resources for choirs, many of whom would be rehearsing virtually in the coming season.

In searching for a text to use for this project, I reached out to my favourite Canadian poet, Jeni Couzyn, and learned that she had recently completed a new set of poems, A Corona Sequence, and I chose the first poem from this set, Droplets.

I had recently been thinking about the process of sculpting; starting with a block of material – wood, clay, or stone – and working in to find the sculpture inside, and had been contemplating how this process might apply to composition. The online publication of Corona Sequence included an audio file of Jeni Couzyn reading each poem, and with this sculpting idea in mind, I decided to transcribe the rhythm of her reading to see where it would lead. This process was fascinating, and the rhythm of her reading informed much of my setting very closely.

Aside from the rhythm of Couzyn’s reading, my setting of her text is based on two other primary ideas: the feeling behind the text (anxiety about exposure to droplets that might contain a deadly virus), and the broader philosophical underpinning of the poem, encapsulated in its final line, “we are none but one creature.”

As I contemplated how to musically express our collective anxiety as we try to adjust to a new world where we navigate one another in new and uncomfortable ways, I began to think of our new ways of interacting as a delicate and controlled dance. To capture the controlled, restrained but electrically charged intensity of this dance we do around each other, I decided to bring Latin inspired musical elements to the main section of the piece, including flamenco-style hand clapping, syncopation, and rhythmic drive.

The middle section uses a gradually building contrapuntal texture to reflect the concept, “we are none but one creature;” each stanza being introduced in a soloistic delivery in one voice, and then becoming a counter-subject as the next stanza enters. This section slows down and unfolds in a more declamatory style, building toward three-part counterpoint that then yields to a dramatic re-statement of the poem’s final stanza in a homophonic texture – “one creature,” one voice.

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Text: From A Corona Sequence – by Jeni Couzyn

When you pass, dip your head.
This is the adab of breath.

I breathe in, I breathe you in.
I breathe out, you breathe me in.
Everything we are, have ever been.
We have no choice,
can’t stop breathing.

Droplets – seed banks of time
droplets so fine
mist so ephemeral only mystics
could see it, each breath seeded with
a snowdrop death.

I breathe you in – treading
the congregation of water –
each ancient life,
sea-ocean, sky-ocean, land-ocean
we swim in, that swims in us.

We breathe in stars
of our ancestors
their loves, their hurts.
We are what we breathe.
Take care my love, how you breathe.

You breathe me in.
The mist binds us as the pricking spring
molecules green the spaces of the forest
branches that scribble sky
light that flows taproot to taproot.

It’s a dawning – like a nuclear cloud
there’s no escaping
beast, grain, droplet
in a snaking mist –
we’re none but one creature.