“Over the North Jetty” is a poem by William Stafford that speaks the thoughts of the poet watching a flock of geese in a northern winter storm. We experience poem of deep empathy, as he observes and imagines their impetus to fly through the freezing winds, and the tragedy of one being separated from the rest while the rest fight onward.
Over the North Jetty
Geese and brant, their wingbeat
steady – it’s a long flight, Alaska –
bank their approach and then curve
upwind for landing. They live where storms
are so usual they are almost fair weather.
And we lean in that permanent gale,
watching those cold flocks depend on their wings
as they veer out of the north. In the last flight
one laggard pulls farther downwind
and peels off to disappear alone in the storm.
If you follow an individual away like that
a part of your life is lost forever,
beating somewhere in darkness, and belonging
only to storms that haunt around the world
on that risky path just over the wave.
William Stafford, “Over the North Jetty.” Copyright ©1 987 by William Stafford
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“Over the North Jetty” is scored for double SATB chorus and wind septet, and includes subtle theater. The whole choir is split into two bodies: Geese and Chorus. The Geese SATB choir is slightly smaller and is the flock in which the soloists sing. The Chorus SATB choir sings from either side and optionally behind them.
The Geese choir stands in a block formation that is triangularly shaped, with the point extending out towards the audience. When a soloist is called to sing in the score, they take the point position and remain until the next soloist. This changing of the lead imitates the behavior of geese in flight, which share the aerodynamic burden of being the lead.
Upon a visit to my twin brother Kevin’s home in Portland, Oregon (where William Stafford lived), I got to see and hear the tremendous sound of tens of thousands of geese taking flight. In the opening and once towards the end of the music, I ask the geese singers imitate their sound with an open “A” vowel, written out in a quasi-random, but rhythmically readable way. I first heard this technique in composer Michael Gordon’s work ” 2. I Moved” from “Invisible Man.”
Inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s “Mass”, I chose the winds to create a non-homogenous tonal texture that would play the role of third chorus – and sometimes accompaniment:
- Clarinet in A
- Horn in F
The Euphonium and Contrabassoon are the unusual additions to the group. I want the vibrato and rich tone of the Euphonium and the low frequency power of the contrabassoon – which I’ve never heard in a small ensemble.
The following recording is a mockup to present the musical harmony and rhythmic flow of this piece:
Over the North Jetty (mockup VSL/8dio)
I’m Pleased to announce that Orlando Sings! will be premiering “Over the North Jetty” in October and November of 2023. The first performance will be for the Florida American Choral Directors Association Fall Conference scheduled for October 26-28 at the First United Church of Orlando, FL. An honor to be representing Orlando Arts to choir directors across the state.
Orlando Sings will perform the public premiere at the First United Methodist Church a few weeks later, on November 10th, 2023.
I am grateful to Dr. Andrew Minear and this excellent and welcoming professional group of fine singers!