After a performance of Go, Lovely Rose in 1991, Dr. Jocelyn K. Jensen approached me about writing a piece for her High School Choir. She is an amazing conductor, legendary for doing crazy things on stage (choralography, lighting, costumes, you name it), and I wanted to write something for her that would really knock the audience out. I had recently been given an exquisite book of poems by Octavio Paz, and around the same time I witnessed an actual (breathtaking) desert cloudburst, and I guess it just all lined up. The finger snapping thing (all of the singers snap their fingers to simulate rain) is an old campfire game that I modified for the work, and the thunder sheets were giant pieces of tin we took from the side of the school.
The piece was originally about ten minutes long, but Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe sagely convinced me to “tighten it up”. I did, and the piece (now a lean eight and a half minutes) was finally published in 1995.
Eyes of shadow-water
eyes of well-water,
eyes of dream-water.
Blue suns, green whirlwinds,
birdbeaks of light pecking open
But tell me, burnt earth, is there no water?
Only blood, only dust,
Only naked footsteps on the thorns?
The rain awakens…
We must sleep with open eyes,
we must dream with our hands,
we must dream the dreams of a river seeking its course,
of the sun dreaming its worlds,
we must dream aloud,
we must sing till the song puts forth roots,
trunk, branches, birds, stars,
we must find the lost word,
and remember what the blood,
the tides, the earth, and the body say,
and return to the point of departure…
Octavio Paz, 1914-1998
(Adapted by Eric Whitacre, Translation by Lysander Kemp)