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Stella Maris

fl, cl, pf, vn, va, vc, gtr

Performed by Playground Ensemble.

In Stella Maris, the lowest D of the piano and its overtones paint a portrait of the Virgin Mary...but maybe not the version of her that we usually picture. This is Mary, Star of the Sea, Badass Queen of Peace, Crusher of the Ancient Serpent, the woman at whose very name demons flee in terror. Her hymn tune (the plainchant Ave Maris Stella) is woven stealthily into nearly every moment of the piece, forming the basis of many intricate and relentless melodies, but always unrecognizable until near the end. Listen patiently, and you'll finally hear it emerge triumphantly in the viola at the piece's climax. 


I originally wrote this piece for DU's Modern Hue ensemble by special invitation of the faculty, and later arranged it for the Playground Ensemble (who perform in the video above). Writing it was a serendipitous process of free associations: for some reason the letter names of musical notes are specific colors for me, and in my world D is a luminous, warm shade of light blue. When I started writing this piece at my 1908 upright grand piano, I discovered that playing those "blue" D's in the lowest register of the piano caused a whole rainbow of unexpected notes to vibrate softly because the poor old piano's dampers are out of whack. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to arrange those notes into a piece for the large group of musicians I'd been commissioned to write for? Coincidentally, these notes combined to form a melody similar to the plainchant Ave Maris Stella, “Hail Star of the Sea,” an ancient hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is often shown in pale blue robes. I began exploring symbolic connections between my musical ideas and the hymn's text, and from there the music virtually wrote itself. 

Sonya Yeager-Meeks, flute
Brian Ebert, clarinet
Autumn Pepper, violin
Donald Schumacher, viola
Richard von Foerster, cello
Patrick Sutton, guitar
Arijit Chakraborty, piano
Jonathan Leathwood, conductor

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