Sandburg Songs

I am happy to report the completion of two new Sandburg Songs for soprano and ensemble.  These songs were commissioned by the SoundSCAPE Festival in Maccagno, Italy and are dedicated to Tony Arnold, who will give the premiere this July with Eastman BroadBand and conductor Tim Weiss.  It is an honor to write for such compelling and fearless artists, and I am eager to hear the premiere in Italy next month.

In choosing texts I was drawn again to Carl Sandburg’s fantastic and evocative Chicago Poems (1916).  I hope that these two songs will be part of a larger cycle.  For now I selected two poems that offered me the opportunity to pursue great narrative and musical contrast.


DESOLATE and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.


I AM riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-­‐‑steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
answers: “Omaha.”

Both these poems have been set previously, including a dark and haunting setting of “Lost” by Mario Davidovsky.  What strikes me most about Sandburg is his distinct cadence and searing, vivid imagery.  There is an immediacy to his words that brings the stories and souls of the past to our present day.  It has been wonderful to spend time inside these compact, giant worlds of words.

On a somewhat different note, here are some photographs of Sandburg and Marilyn Monroe: