Spectral Spirits

When Donald Nally asked “are there any texts you’ve been dying to set?” I immediately thought of Passings by Holly J. Hughes. When I read Passings, after finding it on display at a local bookstore, I was drawn in by Holly’s masterful poetry. Each of the 15 poems in her book lovingly tell the story of birds who are highly endangered, extinct, or believed to be gone.

I chose four of Holly’s poems to set – “Passenger Pigeon,” “Carolina Parakeet,” “Eskimo Curlew,” and “Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.” Each of these birds lived in or migrated through or to North America. In addition to her poems, I found treasures in the Forward of Passings ("Take note. These birds are still singing to us. We must listen.") and in the books she references; such as Hope is the Thing With Feathers by Christopher Cokinos.

Composing Spectral Spirits was as much a study of humans as it was of birds. I found myself asking how human beings managed to destroy these populations. Why, if we see something alive, vibrant, with striking color, do we want to possess it to the point of oblivion? Why is it permissible to destroy nature in the name of “progress” or financial gain? In the end: we all lose.

A part of me grieves every day for the state of our planet earth and her creatures. Composing Spectral Spirits was a gift that gave me a chance to funnel this grief. It also allowed me to celebrate the creatures we’ve lost and work to preserve and nurture the ones that still appear in the treetops.

This work was commissioned for The Crossing - Donald Nally, conductor - with generous support provided by John Hawthorn and Danielle Macbeth.

Audio Exerpts:
Passenger Pigeon
Carolina Parakeet

Duration: 30:00

Voicing or Instrumentation: 
24 Voices (SATB)
Audio Credits: 
The Crossing; Donald Nally, conductor
Text Author/Source: 
Holly J. Hughes, Additional text by: Henry David Thoreau, Gert Goebel Christopher Cokinos, Lucien M. Turner Paul A. Johnsgard, and Alexander Wilson
Year Composed: 
SKU: HP04-31