Choose - (2009)
medium voice and piano
The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.
page, circa 2' 10" ]
short musing is drawn from Sandburg's 1916 collection, Chicago Poems.
The tumultuousness of such a decision -- between force and diplomacy,
between the fist and the open hand -- is the lot of mankind, contentious,
often corrupt, self-serving and too frequently brutal in the pursuit of
power, control and wealth. One notes that unlike the pacifist-painted stance
of "war in not the answer," Sandburg does not suggest one alternative over
the other, but only reinforces the truth that at all times and in all
instances we have been, are and will be confronted to "choose." Sometimes,
the "clenched fist" is an appropriate response, and sometimes -- and we
hope, often -- the "open asking hand" is the better alternative.
image is found throughout literature from many cultures; among them there
are two Yiddish proverbs in which the infant's grasping hand and fist are
contrasted with the corpse's still, open hands. These two proverbs come to
opposite conclusions. One suggests the fist is a signal that one must fight
one's way through life while the open hand is a sign that there is nothing
more to be grasped and held. Its opposite suggests that the fist is a sign
of holding on to the possibilities -- the choices -- of life in all its
vitality, while the open hand is evidence that no longer do such choices
matter. Whether in matters of interpretation or life philosophy, it comes to
the same thing: choose.
notes the elegance and ease with which poetry addresses such a great and
central question of life, while the wordiness of politics and opinion
obscures the ever-and-always choice which cannot long be obscured.
setting turns its back on a possible portrayal of tumult, and opens with a
comparatively lengthy prelude which becomes the accompaniment to the vocal
line to come. The upper and lower neighbors move into dissonance and
resolution by varying rhythmic durations, a nod to the choices, large and
small, which one must make in choosing the fist or open hand, but over all
is a sense of calm, for the choices remain and will ever be unresolved until
the end of time, for us individually, for nations, as for the world itself.
The score for
Choose is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial
performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement
with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.