Image by Weston MacKinnon

Heart

2020 • Soprano & Piano • 8'

An extended art song on the puzzle of the human heart with poetry by Maggie Smith

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Premiere in March 2022. Recording forthcoming.

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Program Note

"A child of say, six, knows you're not the shape she's learned to make by drawing half along a fold, cutting, then opening..."

"Heart" is an extended art song originally written as part of Hixon Dance's A Harrowing World, which combines music, dance, and poetry. The dance explores sororal and maternal relationships, how we respond to grief, the way we create shelter through our experiences, and how the past shapes our perspective of the world. 

In "Heart," the narrator puzzles over the heart's complex inner workings. I am attracted to the duality in Maggie Smith's poem—a humble paper heart to represent a more sophisticated body, a child's innocence and life's harsher losses, the contrast of cutting and making a whole, hurting and healing. For me, the poem was initially difficult to enter, yet continually reveals new meaning, even many months later.

Musically, I attempted to capture some of this duality. The skeleton of the primary theme is a simple, embellished rising scale, with supporting motifs like small heartbeats. The piece opens with a childlike simplicity and intimacy, and later blossoms into something richer and more afflicted. As our narrator explores her wounding, the theme is darkened and distorted, and even when it attempts to reclaim its former innocence, it is unable to heal itself entirely. If, in the end, she does not find answers, the most I can offer her is a kind of resignation and wish for peace, and so the closing piano is a slow scaffolding of the theme, rising and fading to silence.

Hixon Dance. Columbus, Ohio. March 2022.

Premiere