Stanzas in Meditation



Recording by: Synergy Vocals (Micaela Haslam, soprano; Amanda Morrison, soprano); Louise Martin, harp.

Program Notes:

This setting of excerpts from Gertrude Stein’s “Stanzas in Meditation” is a personal meditation on select stanzas and lines from the poem.  The poet John Ashbery called “Stanzas in Meditation” a “general, all-purpose model, which each reader can adapt to fit his own set of particulars.  The poem is a hymn to possibility; a celebration of the fact that the world exists, that things can happen.”  These words resonated with me early into my work on this piece.  People interpret Stein in all different ways, and this 150-page poem, with its repetition of colorless connecting words (“where,” which,” “these,” have,” “about,” etc.) and its hazy, abstract sensation of a plot, is a particularly tempting canvas for the reader’s projections.  The word that occurs most often in Stein’s poem is “they,” for as Ashbery writes, this is a poem about “them,” the external world: how the narrator assesses them and asserts her own sense of shifting importance around them.  In selecting the excerpts, I sought to highlight these recurring themes of identity and alienation.  I set it for two voices because the nature of the text suggested to me an inner dialogue.  I preserved portions of certain stanzas while juxtaposing different lines from others, mindful of Stein’s general chronology.  I sought to spotlight what for me were particularly communicative moments – those where the frustration of striving to accompany the evolving thought of the character felt rewarded by a fleeting, if ultimately illusory, glimpse of understanding.

Excerpts from Gertrude Stein’s “Stanzas in Meditation:”

Should they call me what they call me
When they come to call on me
And should I be satisfied with all three
When all three are with me
Or should I say
(Should I be satisfied)
can they stay
(with all three, When all three are with me)
can they stay
(with me)
can they stay
(with me)
Or will they stay with me…
(Should I say can they stay)
Or they stay with me…
(Or will they stay with me…)

All my dear…
They could think let us go…
This is how the hours stand still…
Just when they can they will…
(All my dear)
Let us go
(When they will, they can, they will)
What do I think when I feel…

Should they call me what they call me
(Why will they like me as they do)
When they come to call on me
(Or not as they do)
Why will they like me as they do
(Should they call me what they call me)
Or not as they do
(When they come to call on me)
Why will they praise me as they do
(And should I be satisfied with all three)
Or praise me not as they do…
(When all three are with me)

Why will they disturb me
to disturb me not as they do
Why will they have me for mine
(Why will I be mine)
and do
(or which can they)
and do they
(For which can they leave it…)

There is this difference:

I forgive you
(and there is nothing to forgive)

And so I wish they knew
Two and one, two and one is two…
This which I explain is where any one will remain
Because I am always what I knew

May 21, 2006

Music Web International

“Sarah Kirkland Snider’s graceful 'Stanzas in Meditation', with texts by Gertrude Stein, hauntingly sung by Lisa Bielawa and Sadie Rosales with Cloutier on harp…Snider’s deft interweaving of the two voices in close intervals, against a harp part that harked back to Ravel, seemed to complement the slight echo of Stein’s words.”

Bruce Hodges