A Forest that is a Desert was commissioned by Choral Arts Initiative for the 2019 PREMIERE|Project Festival. The work sets three texts written by Kendra Preston Leonard specifically for this composition.
When I first received the CAI commission, I looked through a number of Kendra’s text and was drawn to her lovely work “My mother is a poem by Yeats,” which expresses the profound grief of watching a loved one succumb to dementia. Full of ideas, I texted to ask if she would be open to me setting it. She was thrilled – but another composer already had secured the rights to set the poem!
I resigned myself to choosing another text, but couldn’t get the first poem of my head enough to find something that resonated strongly. After some brainstorming, Kendra generously agreed to write a companion text exploring similar themes. Within a couple days, she sent three new poems written in memory of her mother, hoping that one might be a good fit. I loved all three and was particularly drawn to them as a set.
The resulting work, A Forest that is a Desert, uses traditional choral writing, coloristic vocal effects, and indeterminacy to bring to life Kendra’s evocative words. The music is intended to reflect the mental effects of dementia on those who suffer from it and also express the complex emotions felt by loved ones watching that decline.