Litany (For A Year)


for SATB Chorus, Soprano solo and Violin


6 minutes

The Alaska Chamber Singers, David Hagen, conductor

The Alaska Chamber Singers, David Hagen, conductor

Steven Sametz Publications

Program Notes

I am a collector of poetry.  So when David Hagen, director of the Alaska Chamber Singers, asked me to compose a piece for their thirtieth season, I revisited a volume in my library entitled PoetryALASKAwomen:Top of the World, where I re-encountered Susan Campbell’s beautiful poem, Litany For A  Year.   I immediately thought it was a good match and I contacted Susan to get a little more background about the poem. She was very gracious and explained that, for her, the idea of the “litany” was to imbue the ordinary events of our lives with a certain sacredness which arises when we are more mindful in our lives.  Campbell’s poem touched a chord for me in this context: our ability to look back and see where we’ve been – our memories – grounds and defines us. The only change I made in titling the piece was to put “For A Year” in parentheses, since for me, the quality of the poem gave the litany a quality of a lifetime of memories.  The musical setting takes many modulations: turns and tangents in a mind not quite settled.  The close wordlessly drifts through a rapid series of modulations, finding rest in a tonal resolution foreshadowed at the opening, a kind of closure.

Steven Sametz



Litany For A Year

When a full moon lifts the horizon
When berries swell in the long sun
When knees kneel in relenting soil
When songbirds nest in shaded branches
When the sound of water shapes sleep
When the road is all there is
When longing is dredged from the ground
When sunlight becomes [a] fragrance
When skeins of wild geese hem the sky
When petals slake through chilled air
When fires die and travelers leave
When stars arrive
When women gather with baskets and jars
When callused hands are covered with earth
When thoughts hover like tangled birds
When you turn one way and then the other
When cranes disappear from the river
When you listen to their leaving
When wind scrapes the house
When prayers crowd sleep
When bears dream of berries bruised onto their lips
When steam rises from split loaves
When maps unfold on hardwood floors
When snow sheathes the landscape  When a fire burns all day
When the Aurora sifts into the trees
When a friend arrives unexpected
When the sap is sucked into the smallest branches
When the north becomes the only direction
When tenderness tongues you at first light
When carried grief seems to lift
When the smell of another skin is your own
When you wake to the first rain
When you finally remember.

-Susan Campbell
(Fairbanks, Alaska)