The Joy of Collaboration

A few years ago I heard from a composer who had picked up one of my books when he was in Charleston with the Westminster Choir during the Spoleto Festival. His name was Nathan Jones, and he was interested in composing music for my poem “Newlyweds.” He was good to his word.  About a half a year later, the piece was performed by the Westminster Choir during Spoleto USA.  I met Nathan at a rehearsal, and it was like meeting an old friend.  Listening to the choral piece was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was like listening to angels, and I was moved to tears. 


A bride beneath a backpack

bigger than her body, holds

a vase of red and yellow

roses in front of her heart.

The groom, dragging a suitcase

on wheels, hugs a shopping bag

stuffed with still-wrapped gifts,  

wedding cake balanced on top.

They run through the airport,

ribbons spilling thin white streams

through the air behind them.

(Used with permission of the author, published in Despite Gravity, Poems by Marjory Heath Wentworth, Ninety-Six Press, Greenville, SC, 2007.)

Newlyweds (link to Westminster Choir Spoleto Performance)

Performance Notes from the Poet:
“Newlyweds” is inspired by a young couple I met at an airport. They had been married in a small civil ceremony and were literally flying “home” to celebrate their wedding with friends and family. “Newlyweds” is written in the often overlooked Welsh poetic form called the cynhunned. It requires a seven syllable line and often yields an astonishing lyric intensity. The play within the line results in rich alliteration and attention to sound that creates a kind of echoing across the lines that Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins aptly described as “chiming.” I am thrilled that composer Nathan Jones has been inspired by this poem, and it is an honor to have the piece included in this year’s Westminster Choir concert during the Spoleto Festival.

Marjory Wentworth
South Carolina Poet Laureate

Performance Notes from the Composer
Marjory is the author of three collections of poetry. I discovered her work while singing at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC with the Westminster Choir in June of 2009.

“Newlyweds,” from Wentworth’s collection Despite Gravity, is a simple and elegant text, containing many wonderful images – including red and yellow roses clasped in front of a young bride’s heart and ribbons spilling out of bags of unopened gifts. Such depictions invoke for me the feeling of excited uncertainty at the beginning of a married couple’s journey. To reflect this excitement and sense of traveling forward, I have used a rising suspension chain that mimics the unraveling and spilling out of the streaming ribbons. To represent the security and comfort felt at the beginning of this new level of commitment in a relationship, I provided solid chords for the lower voices. The final words (“…as they travel home with all they think they will ever need.”) return us “home” to the voices and music used at the beginning of the piece. However, in a desire to portray the unknown final outcome of the couple’s relationship, the ending of the piece leaves the music unresolved, for this is only the beginning – they have yet to live their life, writing their own story together.




“What If”

Performance Notes from the poet:

I am thrilled to report that Nathan has chosen one of my poems again – this time with a poem from my newest collection, The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle. This poem is the first poem in the book, which is structured around poems that ask questions at the beginning of each chapter.  The book’s title comes from a line in the Orhan Pamuk novel, Snow, and I wanted the poems to celebrate the small miracles we experience every day – like watching the snow fall, or hearing an owl call through the night.  It’s also about gratitude for the simplest things. We take far too much for granted.  I am particularly curious about human behavior, in particular righteous behavior that often occurs against all odds. In the poem “What If” I explore the miracle of simple good luck and the notion that we need to always be grateful for good fortune while acknowledging the loss that comes from its opposite.  Here’s what Nathan had to say about the experience of working with the students who performed it at Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory:  “It was interesting to think about each ‘what if’ specifically as well as how they each would affect the other.  Such a deep text and I know the kids in the choir felt the same way.  There was one girl who had a good friend that had died in Iraq and was really touched by the ‘war was a memory’ portion…..”

        What If

the coin landed on heads instead of tails

wind blew in another direction

a boat landed here   the storm turned north

the car stopped before the patch of black ice

 fire never spread through the house

the bomb never dropped    the bullet missed its mark


What if grass was worshipped and Bach prevailed

Bonhoeffer had succeeded   Europeans

had revered the Indians    angels were

visible    war was a memory

everyone forgot     what if the light

within us found a way to burn bright

(used with permission of the author, published in The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle, Poems by Marjory Heath Wentworth, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC, 2010.  

What If (link to the YouTube  video)

Performance Notes from the Composer: 

“When Dirk contacted me in the summer of 2011 about a commission, his first words were, “My administration wants a flash-mob in reverse.”  I wasn’t sure what I would write but I was excited for the opportunity to work with Dirk again.  I visited him in June and we settled on the poem “What if” by Marjory Wentworth.  I’ve used Marjory’s poems before and I love her use of language.  This particular text is special because Marjory told me about it when I met her in Charleston the summer of 2010.  She said that it was a new style for her that incorporated visual pauses.  While Dirk and I were sitting outside talking about the poem, we could hear some birds calling to each other in a very musical way.  I decided to use this motive and the thematic phrase “what if” from the poem to create an aleatoric “flash-mob” opening to the piece.”

More from Marjory Wentworth
Poetry and the Enviroment
Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems to be...
Read More