I will be a man of truth; never will I fear my shadow.
This was the first line that came to me when I began work on this commission for the 2018 California ACDA All-State Men’s High School Honor Choir. I was thinking of “fake news” and Russian office buildings filled with people whose job it was to spread falsehoods among their own people, and abroad. I was also thinking of American tongues that lies seemed to roll off far too easily, and of the incalculable damage to the fabric of our society caused by those lies. I began the piece before the #MeToo movement, but the epic “falls” of Harvey Weinstein and many others only made the words more reverberant as the weeks progressed:
When my words return to me, I will not deny them.
When my deeds are brought to light, I will own them.
I often find inspiration in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, and it was certainly true for this piece; the image of stars seemed fitting as I kept working at the lyrics, and I thought of a special moment in the Lord of the Rings when Sam and Frodo, deep inside Mordor have almost given up hope. Yet, right then, the clouds clear for a moment, and a single star is visible:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end, the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
Such stars became the central image in the piece’s repeating refrain:
I’ll chart my course by stars eternal, shining bright in crystal skies.
I’ll chart my course by stars eternal, far beyond the reach of lies.
I call upon their light to light my way,
To lead me back when from my path I stray,
To shine until the darkness turns to day,
And the wind has swept the veiling clouds away.
Also true to Tolkien, I formed some verses using some archaic “noble” vocabulary that might be found in some of his writing:
Nor would I bandy in deceit, and trade my face for a disguise,
Nor would I steal away the sun, and take the light from others’ eyes….
I spent several fulfilling days at the piano working with the 120 dedicated and talented young men of the California All-state Men’s Choir, under the inspiring leadership of Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, and “Man of Truth” was premiered in San Jose, CA on February, 17, 2018.