Homage to Ourania (2015)
SATB a cappella
*Winner, 2016 Six Degree Singers Young Composers Competition
Text by the composer:
This ancient, starry stratosphere –
A dome of ageless, speckled light:
She calls to us its burning spark
To flame our need for wonderment.
Celestial, universal muse –
With globe and compass, radiant –
She points us, pushes us to seek,
To venture ‘tween; within; without.
Ourania, fair sky-made muse,
Inspire our ever-upward gaze;
Ourania, our watchful guide,
We trust thy gift of galaxies.
The Greeks believed in nine muses who would grant them inspiration in their art; similarly, I have always felt deeply stirred when looking up at the night sky. There is something about realizing how small I am in comparison to the vast universe that spurs me to try and live a more purposeful life. It overwhelms me to think that, since the people of ancient civilizations did not possess our modern technology with which to view the stars, they learned everything they knew through their eyes. And, since they had only their judgment and imagination with which to interpret what they saw in the heavens, it seems natural that the Greeks devoted one of their fabled muses to enlightening them about the galaxies. This muse of celestial objects, Ourania, would supposedly whisper the secrets of the cosmos to astronomers as they mapped out the constellations. In an analogous manner, when I look up at the sky, I experience clarity and a growing peace of mind that stirs my creativity. In fact, the night sky inspired me to write an original poem that could capture my wonder at seeing a sky full of stars as well as serve as homage to Ourania.
In the music, I drew inspiration from the tune found on the Greek Seiklos epitaph, the oldest surviving ancient Greek musical composition. The tune is quasi modal, so I strove to incorporate this into the melody and harmonies of my piece. I utilized parallel fifths, in line with how the Seiklos epitaph is harmonized, and based my melody line on a fragment of the tune that returns several times throughout. I also attempted to foreground the intelligibility of the text, setting most of the words homorhythmically; this piece is meant as an address to Ourania herself, and the muse won’t be able to inspire us if she cannot hear our appeal. Finally, I focused on trying to convey an overall feeling of deep wonderment and awe – a feeling of reverence that both the night sky and Ourania deserve.