Homing
A four-movement work for mixed chorus and orchestra to texts by J.A.C. Redford.

Duration: 28'
Difficulty: 4/5

  • I dreamed last night that I fell fast asleep (7:15)
  • Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet (4:30)
  • I weep for a world (7:30)
  • This is the house of your long-exiled soul (6:45)

Click here to view score.
Voicing/Instrumentation
VOICES

Mixed Chorus (divisi, no solos)

ORCHESTRA

2 Flutes (2nd doubling Piccolo)
2 Oboes (2nd doubling Cor Anglais)
2 Clarinets (2nd doubling Bass Clarinet)
2 Bassoons

4 French Horns
3 Trumpets
2 Tenor Trombones
Bass Trombone
Tuba

Timpani

Percussion (2 players)
     Glockenspiel
     Vibraphone
     Chimes (Tubular Bells)
     Gran Cassa
     Piatti
     Suspended Cymbals (Small, Medium & Large)
     Triangle (Small)
     Tambourine (Small)
     Tam Tam
     Shaker

Harp
Celesta

Strings
Notes
J.A.C. Redford has long been interested in what he calls “crossing over” literature. In explanation, he says, “By that I mean prose or poetry that imagines the experience of transition from this life to the next, or that renders more porous the borders between the material world and the world of spirit. Examples of this kind of writing include ‘The Grey Havens,’ the final chapter from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or the last five chapters from The Last Battle, the concluding book of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Or the novels Phantastes by George MacDonald and Descent into Hell by Charles Williams. Or Dante’s Divine Comedy. Or the entire genre of magical surrealism.”

Redford conceived his text as responsive poetry to several literary passages he loves “as if I were conversing over dinner with the authors whose contributions to the discussion are embodied in their works...Art can be both inspiring and generative, allowing us to communicate across and beyond ordinary boundaries of time and space.” In addition to their “crossing over” qualities, these texts speak of what C. S. Lewis called our “inconsolable secret,” that profound human longing for a place where we belong, our true home, that J. R. R. Tolkien describes as a “far green country under a swift sunrise”in what Thomas Howard calls the “Springtime of which all spring times speak.” Other authors with whom Redford converses in Homing include Leif Enger (Peace Like a River), George Herbert (Love Bade Me Welcome), and King David (Psalm 23).

Homing begins in silence, broken by the “tolling” of a pianissimo tam tam and gran cassa. The choral entrance is pianissimo, the unison rising melody set for men’s voices is very closely related to the text with the silence following the word “vanished,” the melismatic passage on “diffusing,” and the descending half-step motives on “lost,” bringing in the women’s voices on the opening motive with the harmony painting “dense” and the melody rising to “stars.” In the third stanza, extended tertian harmony in a brief choral recitative communicates the motion and denseness of the sea. The sea imagery that characterizes the remainder of this movement begins in this stanza. The final three stanzas contrast sharply with the first three: the tempo increases and the lines rise toward the sun and its “waking spell of light” to an expansive arrival at “a far green country.”

Moving the narrative forward, the second movement takes shape in an ebullient race across the expansive landscape. Redford writes, “With this poem, I wanted to actually create a visceral sense of joy and motion with the words. While my structural model was Dylan Thomas’s villanelle Do not go gentle into that good night, my content contrasts rather sharply with his.”

The third movement departs from the narrative stream with a reflection on the darkness of present conditions. Redford explains, “This is a responsive poem to Samwise Gamgee’s vision of the star over Mordor: ‘There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower 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 forever beyond its reach.’ I’m trying with these lines to come to terms with our own Mordor...and our own star.”

In the fourth and final movement, the narrative line is resumed and the warmth of the “true home” is expressed in rich extended tertian homophonic chorale-like language. Frederick Buechner once wrote: “Faith is homesick- ness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting. Faith is journeying through space and through time.” Responding, Redford said, “I feel this very deeply, and a sense of homesickness is somehow bound up in the heart of all of my music. As is the experience of glimpsing: those rare, random moments when the veil is briefly tugged aside.” This glimpsing lies at the roots of Homing, and it is the composer’s hope that it will strike a resonant chord in the hearts and minds of its performers and listeners.

––Notes excerpted from “Homing: The Words and Music of J.A.C. Redford,” by Larry D. Wyatt, found in the March 2017 conference edition of the CHORAL JOURNAL (Volume 57 Number 8), pp. 8-31.
Text
Homing
Words & Music by J.A.C. Redford (1953- )

I - I dreamed last night that I fell fast asleep

I dreamed last night that I fell fast asleep,
And all I knew had vanished like a breath,
A gust of heat, diffusing to its death,
Lost past recall was all that I would keep.

I dreamed that I awoke to sheets of rain
Through mist so dense I couldn’t see the stars,
But I could just make out the masts and spars,
A ship’s bare bones, a deck of weathered grain.

And I could sense the motion of the sea,
And I could taste the salt tang in the air,
Yet there was such an utter stillness there,
The world had held its breath, it seemed to me.

Then suddenly the sun flamed in the sky,
Through rending clouds, a waking spell of light
Transformed to shimmering silver every sprite
Of air, to glimmering glass each trick of eye.

I felt a keen breeze freshening my face,
And heard sweet singing, sonorous yet hushed,
A poignant fragrance, hints of roses crushed,
Calling me forward with a quickening pace,

To a white shore, brilliant with starbright foam,
A far green country under a swift sunrise
Spread wide before me, water filled my eyes,
And then I knew at last I had come home.

II - Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet,
Further up and further in, my heart would not delay,
I can feel the rhythm pounding in the pulse of every beat!

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat,
Now my spirit dances with the robin and the jay,
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet.

All the juice of life is moving now within the grain of wheat,
Stretching for the sunlight in the freshness of the day,
I can feel the rhythm pounding in the pulse of every beat!

Here are roses in abundance, every petal I would greet
With a blessing and a grateful bow, before I wheel away,
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet.

For the joyous horns are calling and the melody is sweet,
How can I keep from singing in these vibrant fields of play,
I can feel the rhythm pounding in the pulse of every beat!

Speed my passage ever onward now and make my footsteps fleet
I would reach the Master’s table while today is still today,
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet,
I can feel the rhythm pounding in the pulse of every beat!

III - I weep for a world

I weep for a world sore-wounded by a savage will,
A will that vomits fear and hatred in its wake,
And violence, breeding ever more for its own sake,
I weep for a world that never seems to have its fill.

I weep for a bent world, burdened with a plague of greed,
Its children torn and sold with every stolen breath,
Its proud adorned with gilt amusements, dealing death,
I weep for a world that cannot bear to name its need.

Yet even in the deepest darkness, still there shines
A star of highest beauty in the fields of night,
A beauty never marred or lessened, ever bright,
A homing beacon well beyond the battle lines.

O, you who wander broken through this bleak terrain,
Remember the light! –– you do not hope in vain.

IV - This is the house of your long-exiled soul

This is the house of your long-exiled soul,
And here, at last, is your heart-ache’s true home.
Here every broken hope has been made whole
And every sad thing finally undone.

A table has been laid, a feast prepared,
And guests have come to share the bread and wine:
The wounded prodigal with head now bared,
The fractured man, now clothed in his right mind,

The king, grown weary of his will to power,
The warrior, sword still heavy in his hand,
Each one, now summoned to this holy hour,
Has crossed, through darkness, the forsaken land.

And each of them you were, and might have stayed
But for the love-spurred purchase of a grace
That hastened down the ways on which you strayed
To see you safely stabled in this place.

Time now to quit the glittering parade,
And leave the costumed tumult of the race.
Now lay aside the scepter and the blade
And feel the play of light upon your face.

Time now to sit and taste that all is well,
To find your story fit within its frame
And answered with each new companion’s tale,
To hear at last the sound of your true name.

This is the house of your long-exiled soul,
And here your restless heart will find release.
The one who loves you best has made you whole
And welcomes you to joy in ripening peace.

Copyright © 2015 by J.A.C. Redford. All rights reserved.

Quotes:
“A far green country under a swift sunrise” (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)
“Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet” (Howe, The Battle Hymn of the Republic)
“Further up and further in” (Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia)
“He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat” (Howe, The Battle Hymn of the Republic)
Commission & Performance History
Homing was commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) for its Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission 2017. The work premiered on 8 and 9 March at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, in concerts for the ACDA National Conference 2017. The combined choir of 150 singers was drawn from the University of Minnesota Chamber Singers and the Minnesota Chorale, both under the direction of Kathy Saltzman Romey, and Magnum Chorum, led by Mark Stover. The choir was joined by the Minnesota Orchestra and the performances were conducted by Robert Spano, Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.