top of page

Program notes, texts, & translations


undanceable (2010) — David Lang

I wrote “undanceable” in 2010, for cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Evelyne Luest, as a birthday present for my friend Aaron Kernis. I wanted to make something that Aaron would like, and that would be birthday-appropriate, so I thought of writing dance music, in honor of his enjoyable piece “100 Greatest Dance Hits.” 


A strange paradox about dance music in a concert hall is that it must be rhythmic enough to make you feel like dancing, but not so catchy that you become frustrated you can’t jump up out of your seat and dance down the aisles. My solution to this paradox was to write a kind of tango, whose rhythms I then intentionally hobbled. This, I thought, would keep us in our seats. Its original impulse comes from dance music, but it isn’t dance music anymore.

           – David Lang

Elements (2013) — Katerina Gimon


I. Air 

II. Fire 

Elements is a set of choral works that abstractly depict the four classical elements while exploring the wide range of capabilities of the human voice. evoking the sound and energy of each element.

Canadian composer Katerina Gimon describes “Air” as “tracing the movement from calm breath to thick violent winds”. In line with 21V’s focus on music of the Americas, we chose to include Portuguese, Guaraní, Nahuatl, and Yoruba languages in addition to the original English, Spanish and French of the score. “Fire” is “a fun, lively, and energetic work incorporating vocal percussion, body percussion, nasal singing, calls, and nonsense syllables, as well as optional percussion.” Elements was premiered in March 2014 by Laurier Singers under Lee Willingham. Each piece is preceded in the score by an epigram.


wind, breath

free, dynamic, transparent

moving, flowing, changing, and fuelling 




heat, light

strength, fuel, drive

burning, melting, evaporating, and transforming



Truth Tones (2009) — Trevor Weston

Truth Tones was commissioned by the Boston Children’s Chorus for a “Raising the Roof” MLK Jr. Celebration on Jan 19, 2009. Instead of using excerpts from speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., I decided to focus on an important issue across many of Dr. King’s speeches: the revelation of hidden truths. He so often spoke to the universality of humans and the beauty of living in a society where the truth of equality was actually celebrated. 


Rather than using Dr. King’s words, I thought that it would be more interesting to draw from both the famous African Saint Augustine and a poem entitled “The Poet” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, an important African American. Dr. King’s speeches demonstrated a broad historical perspective, so I sought to honor the legacy of his scholarship by using texts that span a millennium and a half. “The Poet” by Dunbar seems to describe Dr. King’s message as poetry, not just informing the population but teaching and encouraging reflection through the beauty of his words. 


The St. Augustine quotes deal more specifically with the title. In his Confessions, St. Augustine discusses the difficulty humans have in hearing the truth and the adverse reactions many people who speak the truth receive from society. Throughout the piece the spiritual “Wade in the Water” appears in the alto voices, as a melodic and thematic statement of the familiar.  

– Trevor Weston


O Truth, you give hearing to all who consult you...You answer clearly, but all men do not hear you...

Why is it, then, that “truth begets hatred?” Why is your man who preaches truth to men become an enemy in their eyes…

– St. Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions


The Poet

He sang of life, serenely sweet,
With, now and then, a deeper note. 

From some high peak, nigh yet remote, 

He voiced the world’s absorbing beat.


He sang of love when earth was young. 

And Love, itself, was in his lays.

But ah, the world, it turned to praise 

A jingle in a broken tongue.


– Paul Laurence Dunbar

Two Partsongs (2024) — Chris Castro, texts by Ruben Darío and Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Chris Castro is a composer and double bassist from Brooklyn, New York, and a recipient of Chamber Music America's 2021 Classical Commissioning Award. Castro joined the faculty of Chapman University as Assistant Professor of Composition in August 2022, and holds a PhD in composition and theory from UC Davis, and a bachelor’s degree in music from the Juilliard School in both double bass and composition.


“Two Partsongs” was commissioned by Martín Benvenuto and 21V, in honor of César Chavez and Dolores Huerta. I am currently fascinated with the concept of doubles and mirrors. The goal of setting two different poets in two different languages to honor two different people came to me immediately.


The first text I chose is the passage from Goethe’s Faust in which angels tell him to recreate the world in a more beautiful way. I knew I had to find an appropriate double to this text, which invites us to create a new world as we see fit. To prepare us for the Goethe, I have selected Rubén Darío’s “De Otoño”. One can imagine Faust as the poet, completely apathetic to the new world they have created. “Let the hurricane move my heart.”


“Two Partsongs” are thus brief settings of the texts below. The Darío is for three-part treble choir, and the Goethe for double that voicing. The settings are homophonic, in keeping with the tradition of partsongs.

– Chris Castro

I. De Otoño 

Yo sé que hay quienes dicen: Por qué no canta ahora

con aquella locura armoniosa de antaño?
Esos no ven la obra profunda de la hora,
la labor del minuto y el prodigio del año.


Yo, pobre árbol, produje, al amor de la brisa,

Cuando empecé a crecer, un vago y dulce son.

Pasó ya el tiempo de la juvenil sonrisa:

Dejad al huracán mover mi corazón!


– Rubén Darío


In Autumn (Translation by Alberto Acereda & Will Derusha)


I know that there are those who say, “Why don’t you sing now

with that harmonious madness of old?”

They don’t see the profound work of an hour,

the labor of a minute, and the prodigy of a year.


I, a poor tree, produced, out of love for the breeze,

when I began to grow, a vague and sweet sound.

The time for youthful smiles has long passed:

Let the hurricane move my heart!

II. Choir of Spirits from Faust 

Alas! Alas! You destroyed her 

the beautiful world

with a mighty fist.

It falls, it falls apart

by a demigod destroyed. 

We carry the ruins

into nothingness

and wail over beauty undone 

and lost.

Earth’s mighty sons 

rebuild it magnificent,

and start a new life, a new way, 

and sound new songs.


– Johann Wolfgang Goethe (translation by the composer)


My Dearest Ruth (2023) — Stacy Garrop 

The letter upon which “My Dearest Ruth” is based was my father’s last written statement. My parents celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary in my father’s room at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Wednesday, June 23, 2010. The following day, my mother called to say Dad had taken a turn for the worse. I flew to Baltimore the next morning (Friday) and met Mom at Dad’s room. The doctors came in and told us there was nothing more they could do—the cancer had progressed too far. All this time, Dad kept repeating one word: “Home.” So, we made arrangements to bring him back to our apartment in Washington, D.C. While collecting his belongings from the hospital room, Mom pulled open the drawer next to Dad’s bed and discovered a yellow legal pad on which Dad had written this a week earlier:

My Dearest Ruth –

You are the only person I have loved in my life, setting aside, a bit, parents and kids and their kids, and I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met at Cornell some 56 years ago.

What a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top of the legal world!!

I will be in JH Medical Center until Friday, June 25, I believe, and between then and now I shall think hard on my remaining health and life, and whether on balance the time has come for me to tough it out or to take leave of life because the loss of quality now simply overwhelms. I hope you will support where I come out, but I understand you may not. I will not love you a jot less.



My sister Jane and I commissioned Stacy Garrop to adapt the letter and set it to music as one of three songs by different women composers to be presented in 2013* as an 80th birthday tribute to our mother, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Soprano Patrice Michaels sang the premiere at the Supreme Court with pianist Dana Brown on Saturday, April 6, 2013. 

– James Ginsburg


*The treble choir version was commissioned in 2023 by 21V; Martín Benvenuto, Artistic Director.


When the Dust Settles (2019) — Mari Esabel Valverde, text by Amir Rabiyah


We look to the intersections between those in the margins for humanity’s nerve endings—our vastest source for empathy and nuanced outrage. There we find Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, holding the door open for “the forgotten ones, the discarded, and misunderstood,” asking us all to stay “strong and delicate.” A former grassroots organizer and lifelong transgender and intersex rights activist from coast to coast, Miss Major is a “veteran” of the Stonewall Riots. Hearing her speak today, you would not perceive within her voice the years of surviving our historically transphobic, racist, and often violent systems of oppression. And her fight to liberate her trans and queer descendants continues. At age 78, she opened the House of GG, the Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat and Historical Center for the transgender and gender non-conforming community, in Little Rock, Arkansas. For more information please visit:


“When the Dust Settles” is a culmination of trans stories brought to life through singing, written in homage to Miss Major. Amir Rabiyah’s original poem, created expressly for this song, synthesizes themes of intersectional identity, survival, and humanity, striving to share a bit of Miss Major’s perspective. Phrases such as ‘when the dust settles,’ and ‘we are still here,’ are direct quotes, while other statements and themes are paraphrased. The text points toward a trans woman’s right to life and to pleasure. 


The choice of Db major, the key of the earth, hearkens back to “Our Phoenix,” my first collaboration with Rabiyah, memorializing the lives of our trans siblings who are murdered across America every year. But now, we celebrate trans lives and mold the relative minor into its parallel major, with Bb carrying along tones of Db major as badges for what we have survived to get to our “honeyed” days. 


Commissioned jointly by Peninsula Women's Chorus—as part of their Trailblazers Project—and VOX Femina Los Angeles in 2019, I am now honored to have 21V bring "When the Dust Settles" back home to the San Francisco Bay Area this spring.

– Mari Esabel Valverde


You opened your arms for the forgotten ones 

the discarded & misunderstood
you showed them a mother's love
enveloped them in a delicate 

and powerful embrace, beautiful star
when the dust settles, we'll always remember 

how you showed us how to fight
even while the jagged blade of sorrow 

pressed on us, to fight
ceaselessly, to tend to one another
You said, when the dust settles
I hope my girls will be okay
You cried out from the cells of Attica
and outside Stonewall's battered streets
Do you hear me? Are you listening?
How many more have to die? 

your heart bigger than any cage 

even in the midst of so much loss 

you remind us to dream
to hold tomorrow between our lips 

we deserve to kiss without fear 

to grow old
to sway our hips
to wear what we wish
to relish in the pleasure of our bodies
the seeds you planted continue to grow
into blooming song
when the dust settles, we will raise our voices
just as you have always done, in glorious proclamation 

we will let everyone know—
We are still here!
We are still here! 

We Are the Storm (2019) — Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, text by Charles Anthony Silvestri

Mr. Tate is a classical composer and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma who has dedicated himself to the development of American Indian classical composition. His Washington Post review states that “Tate is rare as an American Indian composer of classical music. Rarer still is his ability to effectively infuse classical music with American Indian nationalism.”  


Mr. Tate’s middle name, Impichchaachaaha’, is his inherited traditional Chickasaw house name and means “his high corncrib.” A corncrib is a small hut used for the storage of corn and other vegetables. In traditional Chickasaw culture, the corncrib was built high off the ground on stilts to keep its contents safe from foraging animals.


Three North American Indian melodies (Zuni, Chickasaw, & Ojibway) are featured in “We Are the Storm,” setting lyrics by Charles Anthony Silvestri that offer a message about peaceful human solidarity. The work was commissioned by Central Bucks High School and premiered in February 2020.

On this horizon there gathers a storm;
Thickening air hangs heavy and warm.
The fields of future lie among us cold and dry
The few among us know not the reason why.
We are lightning; we are thunder;
Generation of wonder!
We are the storm that gathers at last;
We are the future healing the past.
Storm gathers water and fire,
Stirring the earth, lifting it higher,
A storm, its beauty, tempest of light and love,
Its voice of nature below and above.
Storms will heal what divides,
Let us storm and turn the tides!
The earth cries out, ready for rain
The fields of our future grow green again.
Lightning and thunder!
Yakkookay (Thank You)!


Earth Song (2007) — words and music by Frank Ticheli

“Earth Song” is one of only a few works that I have composed without a commission. Instead, it sprang out of a personal need during a time when so many in this country, including me, were growing disillusioned with the war in Iraq. I felt a strong impulse to create something that would express my own personal longing for peace.

It was this longing which engendered the poem’s creation. Normally, I would spend countless hours, weeks, perhaps months, searching for the perfect poem to set. But in this case, I knew I had to write the poem myself, partly because it is not just a poem, but a prayer, a plea, a wish—a bid to find inner peace in a world that seems eternally bent on war and hatred.

But also, my poem is a steadfast declaration of the power of music to heal. In the end, the speaker in the poem discovers that, through music, he is the embodiment of hope, peace, the song within the Song. Perhaps music has the power not only to nurture inner peace, but also to open hearts and ears in a world that desperately needs love and listening.

– Frank Ticheli


Sing, Be, Live, See.
This dark stormy hour,
The wind, it stirs.
The scorched earth
Cries out in vain:
O war and power,
You blind and blur,
The torn heart
Cries out in pain.
But music and singing
Have been my refuge,
And music and singing
Shall be my light.
A light of song
Shining strong: Alleluia!
Through darkness, pain, and strife, I’ll
Sing, Be, Live, See…

bottom of page