I finished setting the first poem on Wednesday as anticipated, but I didn't post it because I like to get away from the piece for around 24 hours so I can examine it with fresher ears. I found that I added a beat to the rhythm of the sustained note leading into the last fast tempo and I changed the melody and harmony in one spot in this section. I would be interested in hearing anyone's comments regarding the setting of this poem now that it is complete.
While reflecting on this setting, I was reminded of a comment I received in 1980 when the Harrisburg Symphony performed by "Amendment I". This piece was commissioned by the Boise Philharmonic in honor of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 and contains a musical representation of the freedoms promised by the first amendment. The critic who reviewed the concert wrote, "Charles Ives did it better". My reaction to this was to think, "no, Charles Ives did it differently". The point I am trying to make is that composers can do one of two things. They can try to write something that has never been written before or they can write music that is likely to invoke prior associations. It is my opinion that some of the trouble with modern music is that newness has been rewarded just because it is new rather than because it is good. I am not against new ideas, but I think new ideas must be included with the traditions that have already been established. I do not shy away from prior associations. I hope that in the beginning of my setting of Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!", one will envision the stormy sea. If I am compared to Rimsky-Korsakov and "Scheherazade" or other works evoking the stormy sea, so be it. It is my unique way of evoking the stormy sea. The same is true of using the dirge. Other great composers have written dirges. Does that mean I should never write a dirge because someone else did it before? I believe a composer needs to be aware of prior traditions and use what is appropriate for his/her expression. If a composer needs to invent something new to express his/her idea, then that is what should be done. I just object to piece after piece that explores the "new" idea to the exclusion of anything else and then critics and composition competitions tout it as great music. Just some food for thought.
To see and hear the first poem setting, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html