Saturday, October 27 at 8pm
The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill


Brandon Garbot and Adelya Nartadjieva, violin
Jordan Bak, viola
Arlen Hlusko, cello

2018 The Crossing 3 (credit_ Kevin Vondrak).jpg

an evening of works commissioned by The Crossing

A child said, what is the grass? (2015)                                                                        Toivo Tulev

I enter the earth (2015)                                                                                               Joel Puckett

Carthage (2018)                                                                                                    James Primosch

world premiere 


The Tower and the Garden (2018) †                                                                   Gregory Spears

world premiere

I.         80
II.        In the Land of Shinar
III.      Dungeness Documentary
IV.      80 

† Commissioned by The Crossing, Cantori New York, Notre Dame Vocale, and Volti with funding provided by The Ann Stookey Fund for New Music

I enter the earth, The Tower and the Garden, and A child said, what is the grass? were recorded this week for future release.  Carthage will be recorded next July for an album of works by James Primosch.

This concert was recorded for broadcast by our partner WRTI, 90.1 FM, Philadelphia’s Classical and Jazz Public Radio Station.

Program artwork by Steven Bradshaw —

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A child said, what is the grass?
music by Toivo Tulev (b. 1958)
words by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Commissioned by The Crossing and Donald Nally for The Month of Moderns and premiered June 21, 2015, at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
            is any more than he. 

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
            green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
            may see and remark, and say Whose? 

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . . [the produced babe
            of the vegetation.] 

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, [Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.] 

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves. 

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
            from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps. 

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
[Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths. 

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
            for nothing. 

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
            and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
            taken soon out of their laps.] 

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
            at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

 All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

from Song of Myself, Leaves of Grass (bracketed text omitted by the composer)

I enter the earth
music by Joel Puckett (b. 1977)
words spoken by Kxao =Oah of northwestern Botswana in 1971, and then edited by the composer

Commissioned by The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor, for The Month of Moderns and premiered by The Crossing on June 14, 2015, at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. I enter the earth was made possible by the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award presented by Chorus America, funded by the American Composers Forum. 

When people sing ... I enter the earth. I go in at a place like a place where people drink water. I travel a long way, very far. When I emerge, I am already climbing. I'm climbing threads, the threads that lie over there in the south. I climb one and leave it, then I climb another one. Then I leave it and climb another ... And when you arrive at God's place, you make yourself small. You have become small. You come in small to God's place. You do what you have to do there. Then you return to where everyone is, and you hide your face. You hide your face so you won't see anything. You come and come and come and finally you enter your body again. All the people who have stayed behind are waiting for you. ...You enter, enter the earth, and you return to enter the skin of your body ... Then you begin to sing. 

—excerpted from "Folklore and ritual of !Kung hunter gatherers,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology, Harvard University © 1975 Marguerite Anne Biesele (current pen name Megan Biesele) and used with permission. Grateful acknowledgement is made to Dr. Biesele who has granted permission to set and reprint these words. She asks that anyone moved by them consider making a donation to:

The Kalahari Peoples Fund
PO Box 7855
University Station
Austin, TX 78713-7855

music by James Primosch (b. 1956)
words by Marilynne Robinson (b. 1943)

Commissioned by The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor

a note from the composer:

I first came upon the text for Carthage, from the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, when it was quoted in Christian Wiman's book My Bright Abyss. Wiman rightly speaks of the text as being "of consummate clarity and beauty," going on to say how it "so perfectly articulate[s] not only the sense of absence... but also bestow[s] on it an energy and agency, a prayerful but indefinable promise: 'the world will be made whole’." It was this combination of absence and promise, lack and fullness, that attracted me and led me to music of sober reflection and wild joy.

Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water — peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweet as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

 —Excerpt from HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson. Copyright © 1981 by Marilynne Robinson. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

The Tower and the Garden
music by Gregory Spears (b. 1977)
words by Keith Garebian (b. 1943), Denise Levertov (1923-1997), and Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

This work was commissioned by The Crossing, Cantori New York, Notre Dame Vocale, and Volti with funding provided by The Ann Stookey Fund for New Music.

a note from the composer:

The Tower and the Garden is a setting of three poems for choir and string quartet. The texts juxtapose the dangers of technological hubris (the tower) and the need for a place of refuge (the garden) in a world threatened by war and ecological disaster. Each text suggests ways in which Catholic thought and imagery might challenge the status quo.

The first text, poem 80 from the collection “Cables to the Ace,” was written by Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton. It is an eschatological meditation on the garden of Gethsemane, where Christ’s disciples slept on the eve of his crucifixion. Merton compares their slumber to society’s indifference to the destruction of our natural world by potentially dangerous new technologies and war.

The second text was written by poet and Catholic activist Denise Levertov. It is a meditation on the Tower of Babel and the tendency for technology in the information and nuclear age to serve only its own growth and to potentially destroy our lives in the bargain.  

The third poem, written by Keith Garebian, is an homage to queer filmmaker Derek Jarman and his cottage garden at Dungeness on the English coast. Situated precariously between a towering nuclear power plant and the sea, the garden was Jarman’s austere refuge during the final months of his struggle with AIDS. While an atheist and highly critical of the church, Derek Jarman was intrigued by the role religious and hagiographic narratives could play in his filmic indictments of Thatcher-era Britain. This is most notable in his film The Garden, which was shot on location in Dungeness.

I. / IV.

Slowly slowly
Comes Christ through the garden
Speaking to the sacred trees
Their branches bear his light
Without harm 

Slowly slowly
Comes Christ through the ruins
Seeking the lost disciple
A timid one
Too literate
To believe words
So he hides 

Slowly slowly
Christ rises on the cornfields
It is only the harvest moon
The disciple
Turns over in his sleep
And murmurs:
“My regret!”

 The disciple will awaken
When he knows history
But slowly slowly
The Lord of History
Weeps into the fire.  

—“80” from Cables to the Ace or Familiar Liturgies of Misunderstanding by Thomas Merton (1968). Used with permission.


 Timbers black with pitch
shiver on the shingle.
Gulls wheel,
squabble over the fishermen’s catch,
quicksilver of the sea.
The tide invades
the arid strand,
home to larks and tough grasses,
cormorants skim the waves.
A cottage with two prospects
(the old lighthouse
and nuclear plant)
both lit by sights and sighs.
Barbed wire around your garden
cannot keep melancholy at bay.

—“Dungeness Documentary” from Blue: The Derek Jarman Poems by Keith Garebian (2008). All rights reserved by the author. Used with permission.


 Each day the shadow swings
round from west to east till night overtakes it,
half the slow circle. Each year
the tower grows taller, spiralling
out of its monstrous root-circumference, ramps and          
mounting tier by lessening tier the way a searching
bird of prey wheels and mounts the sky, driven
by hungers unsated by blood and bones.
And the shadow lengthens, our homes nearby are
half the day, and the bricklayers, stonecutters,           
       carpenters bivouac
high in the scaffolded arcades, further and further
       above the ground,
weary from longer and longer comings and goings.
      At times
a worksong twirls down the autumn leaf of a
      phrase, but mostly
   we catch
only the harsher sounds of their labor itself, and         
      that seems only
an echo now of the bustle and clamor there was
      long ago
when the fields were cleared, the hole was dug, the
      foundations laid
with boasting and fanfares, the work begun.
The tower, great circular honeycomb, rises and
      rises and still
   the heavens                                            
arch above and evade it, while the great shadow
more and more of the land, our lives
dark with the fear a day will blaze, or a full-moon
      night defining
with icy brilliance the dense shade, when all the
weight of this wood and brick and stone and metal          
      and massive
weight of dream and weight of will
will collapse, crumble, thunder and fall,
fall upon us, the dwellers in shadow.

—“In the Land of Shinar” from Evening Train by Denise Levertov (1992). Used with permission.

The Crossing

Katy Avery
Nathaniel Barnett
Julie Bishop
Kelly Ann Bixby
Elijah Blaisdell
Karen Blanchard
Colin Dill
Micah Dingler
Robert Eisentrout
Ryan Fleming
Joanna Gates
Steven Hyder
Michael Jones
Heidi Kurtz
Chelsea Lyons
Maren Montalbano
Rebecca Myers
Rebecca Oehlers
James Reese
Daniel Schwartz
Rebecca Siler
Daniel Spratlan
Elisa Sutherland
Daniel Taylor

 Donald Nally, conductor
John Grecia, keyboards

Brandon Garbot and Adelya Nartadjieva, violin
Jordan Bak, viola
Arlen Hlusko, cello