“We are made of star stuff,” UNM Choral Director Bradley Ellingboe, said, quoting astronomer Carl Sagan. “Everything in the universe vibrates. Planets spin and hum. Sound exists in light, but our ears aren’t tuned to it,” Ellingboe said.
The universe, unveiled through science and spirit, are the “star stuff” of poetry, which Ellingboe scoured to find just the right verses to set to music for his latest composition, “Star Song.”
“Star Song” was a sabbatical project for Ellingboe. It came to life for him after a stroke he suffered in September 2012. “I didn’t want to take medical leave and the idea for it percolated in my mind as I got over a serious illness.”
Always a student of poetry, Ellingboe once told a friend he had 20 or 30 books of poetry. “As it turned out, I had 52,” he said. He pored over poetry for the month of January, taking breaks for therapy.
The words of the Algonquin, “We are the stars that sing, We sing with our light” and Billy Collins’ “If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole in a river?” filled his head and his heart, and touched the place in his soul where music is born.
“Everything was stars and atoms and angels. It was an old idea, to capture the music of the spheres,” he said. Ellingboe assembled the texts. “They are cohesive, but not a narrative,” he explained.
Setting them to music was “easy-ish,” he said. “Tunes come to me. The scheme for the arc of the piece required it to have a culmination with stops along the way,” he said.
The piece was initially written for choir and piano, but just this month, Ellingboe finished the arrangement for a chamber orchestra. “I could’ve just done piano and choir, but the instruments provide a wider palate of color,” he said, and maybe more vibrations.
Albuquerque is fortunate to receive the world premiere, featuring the University of New Mexico University Chorus, Concert Choir and Moriarty High School Choir. And instead of bringing the community to UNM, Ellingboe is taking his composition to the community by premiering “Star Song” on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Kiva Auditorium in the Albuquerque Convention Center, 401 2nd St. NW.
Tickets are $10, $12 and $15, and are available at Ticketmaster. Tickets can also be purchased at the Kiva Auditorium on the day of the event.
Next up for “Star Song” is a New York City performance in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall May 25, 2014. “We are then touring it in London, Oxford and Bath July 6-16,” he said.
The touring allows other interested singers to participate. “We have 10 or 11 choirs from the United States participating,” he said.
“Aristotle imputed this symphony of the heavens, this music of the spheres, to Pythagoras. But Pythagoras alone of mortals is said to have heard this harmony.
If our hearts were as pure, as chaste, as snowy as his, our ears would resound and be filled with that supremely lovely music of the wheeling stars.” John Milton, “Symphony of the Heavens.”