Writing words for music is like building a boat, poet Michael Dennis Browne said.
If you build too heavy, as if it were a house, the music will flood the structure. But if you build it light – buoyant – the music will lift it.
Browne, professor emeritus of English at the University of Minnesota, and composer John Wykoff are counting on the music and lyrics to lift “Now We Belong,” an original work that the Missouri State University Chorale will debut Jan. 20 at the 58th presidential inauguration.
Dr. Cameron LaBarr, Missouri State director of choral studies, commissioned the pair to write the piece for the Chorale.
Before the election results were in, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies selected the Chorale to perform at the inauguration, an event that more than 40 million people from around the world will watch.
Music and words for millions
Wykoff, assistant professor of music theory and composition at Lee University, said writing music for a diverse audience of millions was a challenging proposition.
“What do they have in common and how do I speak to them?” Wykoff said. “It is all well and good to ‘be yourself’ and ‘speak from the heart,’ but the first rule of oration is to know your audience. And that was, for me, a perplexing part of this work.”
The search for words in this public piece was a tactical rather than a strategic writing process, Browne said, quoting the American poet Tom McGrath.
“The challenge, as I see it, is to write something that has an immediacy, a significant simplicity, but is not banal or thin,” Browne said. “The opportunity is to say something as vividly and wholeheartedly as possible on an occasion which draws the scrutiny of the entire world.”
In addition to their performance at the Presidential Inauguration, the Chorale will perform “Now We Belong” at a concert and reception at 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW, Washington D.C.
About the Chorale
This select choir of 50 voices has toured throughout the United States, Europe and South Africa and performs regularly at statewide and national conferences.
“We are honored that the Missouri State University Chorale has been selected to perform at the inauguration,” said Missouri State President Clifton M. Smart III. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for Chorale students to take part in an important and historic event.”