Three Songs of Life (1997)

for women's choir, handbells, and gestures

Presence (Cancer) deals with the discovery of breast cancer by the patient and by the family and friends. In each movement the singers are asked to execute different hand and body movements, and here the gestures reflect the spread of the disease and the search for comfort. The modal language of the music is gradually distorted as the impact of the disease becomes clear.
Absence (Confusion) is a response to death, marrying the utter logic of death with the rational-irrational emotional response. The (rational) handbell parts use all twelve tones of the diatonic scale, each set with a different rhythm, while the (irrational) vocal parts consist of fragments of conversations overheard in a campus coffee shop, interrupted by shouted exclamations . In this movement the gestures are nervous and repetitive, emphasizing the irrational singing, talking, and shouting, which culminate in a statement of denial.
(avi) (mp4)
Resurrection can be taken as an acceptance or a rejection of death. In live performance, on the last gesture each singer is asked to make and maintain eye contact with an audience member while reaching out to him or her. For the audience and the choir, the result is either extreme discomfort, or a shared intimacy, both of which are part of our dealing with death.
(avi) (mp4)
This piece is dedicated to the memory of Carol Camenzind, a friend who died of breast cancer. Filmmaker Nikila Cole created a short study of the piece and supplied the excerpts.