Hymn to the Morning
SATB chorus, flute, horn, & piano
Year of composition
Hymn to the Morning was written for the Blue Mountain High School Chorus with my impending graduation in mind. I first began work on a setting of Longfellow's A Psalm of Life, but found the result too militaristically chipper. Instead, I turned to a poem by Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American author to have a book of her poetry published.
Born in West Africa, she was captured as a young child and sold into slavery in Boston under the Wheatleys, who renamed her after the slave ship that carried her, The Phillis. Granted an education, her poetic talent soon won over the hearts of many white scholars who previously refused to believe a Black person could be an artist. Some modern scholars believe she inadvertently set back social progress—while her writings often gently advocate for emancipation, she also wrote of her thankfulness for being shipped to the Americas, echoing the common racist sentiment that Africans were better off for slavery because it saved their souls. However, this is hardly Wheatley's fault. Not only was she was conditioned from childhood to view her captors positively, but she also had to represent her entire race to an all-white audience that would have dismissed her upon their slightest discomfort.
I find Wheatley's hymn of praise to the morning sun intensely moving and strangely melancholy; it is ecstatic on the surface, but beneath lies a bittersweet hope for an impending dawn. I hope my Ravellian setting, basically a long crescendo to a cathartic sunrise, might assist those beginning a new chapter, just as writing it assisted me.
Hymn to the Morning was premiered by the Blue Mountain High School Chorus, conducted by Lauren Marra, May 2019, Schuylkill Haven, PA.