During Voicing Poetry 2015, I worked with Cindy Hunter Morgan with her poem, “Rouse Simmons, 1912.” Cindy chose a poetic form—a pantoum—with repetitive lines built in. When the poetic lines repeat, so does the music that accompanies it. This approach came with its own set of challenges: the poem itself re-contextualizes its own material, changing from lighthearted moods to dark and sinister. Re-framing musical elements to reflect these changes involved re-harmonizations, alterations in dynamic, articulation, and phrasing while keeping the pitch material largely intact. Finding ways to connect elements musically in a shifting puzzle-like configuration was also difficult. Musical phrases needed to end ambiguously to allow for the subsequent changes to the order of their appearances. In the end, a pandiatonic harmonic language supported this design best, along with an abundance of breves, semibreves, and musical gestures with a “hanging” cadence.
"Rouse Simmons" will be one of a dozen songs that will make up a forthcoming song cycle based on Morgan's collection of poems about Great Lakes shipwrecks, titled Harborless.