Sarah Kirkland Snider: Something for the Dark

SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER

BORN: October 8, 1973. Princeton, NJ, where she still lives

COMPOSED: 2016, on commission from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

WORLD PREMIERE: April 14, 2016. Giancarlo Guerrero led the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in Detroit

SFS PERFORMANCES: FIRST AND ONLY—At these performances

INSTRUMENTATION: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes and English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, tom-toms, glockenspiel, triangle, tam-tam, bass drum, vibraphone, marimba, suspended and crash cymbals, sleigh bells, snare drum, chimes, crotales, harp, piano, celesta, and strings

DURATION: About 12 mins

Sarah Kirkland Snider belongs to a group of composers in their 30s and 40s who freely play with expectations of genre, incorporating elements of indie rock, electronica, folk, and minimalism into their compositions. Snider has also been an important force in promoting contemporary music in her work as a founding director of the boutique New Amsterdam Records label. Among her frequent collaborators is the singer and composer Shara Nova, for whom she wrote the stunningly beautiful orchestral song cycle Penelope, inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey. Snider’s Unremembered, an hour-long song cycle for multiple vocalists, orchestra, and electronica based on poetry and artwork by Nathaniel Bellows, paints a picture of life in rural Massachusetts. Both works were recorded for New Amsterdam Records.

Snider is currently Composer-in-Residence at the University of Colorado-Boulder College of Music. Upcoming projects include an orchestral commission for the New York Philharmonic, premiering in June 2020; and Tongue of Fire, an opera on twelfth-century visionary/abbess/composer Hildegard von Bingen—commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, with a grant from Opera America—to premiere at Prototype Festival in January 2022. Snider’s third full-length album, to be released in January 2020 on New Amsterdam Records, features her Mass for the Endangered with the English chamber choir Gallicantus, Something for the Dark will be captured on a future release by the North Carolina Symphony.

Sarah Kirkland Snider offers the following on Something for the Dark:

Something for the Dark was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) as a result of my receiving the DSO Elaine Lebenbom Award for Female Composers in 2014.

Thinking about Detroit led me to think about resilience, and what it means to endure. After a brief hint of passing doubt, Something for the Dark opens with a bold, heroic statement of hope and fortitude in the horns and trombones. I think of this music as the optimism of a very young person. Initially, I envisioned this motif journeying through a bit of challenge and adversity to arrive at an even stronger, bolder version of itself: Growth! Triumph! A happy ending! But that wasn’t what happened. Early into its search for glory, the motif finds itself humbled beyond recognition: a delicate, childlike tune in the flute, harp, and celeste arises in its stead. This new version of hope is then put through a series of challenges that roil and churn it like the sea tossing a small boat—testing it, weathering it, even taunting it with memories of its early hubristic naïveté. Eventually, the music finds its way to solid ground, and though its countenance has now darkened, its heroism a distant memory, there is serenity and some wisdom—and perhaps, even, the kind of hope that endures. 

The title of the piece comes from a poem by Philip Levine, the Detroit-born-and-raised, former US poet laureate who was best known for his poems about Detroit’s working class. The last two lines of his poem “For Fran” struck me as an apt motto for his many clear-eyed reflections on endurance. In preparing the flower beds for winter, Levine’s wife becomes a symbol of the promise of renewal: “She packs the flower beds with leaves/ Rags, dampened papers, ties with twine/ The lemon tree, but winter carves/ Its features on the uprooted stem… I turn to her whose future bears/ The promise of the appalling air/ My living wife, Frances Levine, Mother of Theodore, John, and Mark/ Out of whatever we have been/ We will make something for the dark.”—Sarah Kirkland Snider