Foster the Light

On Saturday, March 14, Ars Musica audiences heard the world premiere of Foster the Light by 2014–2015 Composer-in-Residence Joshua Groffman. Here’s what the composer has to say about this exciting new work.

Foster the Light marks the culmination of a year-long collaboration with Ars Musica Chorale. I knew I had a rare opportunity to write three pieces for the same group, and I wanted to find a way to link the three pieces, musically and textually. This led me back to Dylan Thomas’s “Foster the Light,” a poem I’ve wanted to set for years. My first two pieces for Ars Musica used excerpts; the present piece uses the poem’s complete text and incorporates many of the musical ideas developed in the previous works.

Thomas’s language in “Foster the Light” is heady, at times verging almost on impenetrable. But it has a musical richness to it, an ambiguity of meaning that seemed to pair perfectly with music, itself wonderfully specific and wonderfully ambiguous at the same time. The poem looks both inward and outward, speaking to “the poet,” meaning Thomas himself (or any artist), as well as to “the creator,” i.e., God or the deity variously understood. Central to the poem, though, is that Poet and Creator are seen as two sides of the same coin: both are shapers, makers, creating life from raw materials. “Foster the Light,” then, is a kind of a manifesto for the artist, as well as a prayer. William Tindall writes:

“Make the world of me,” the poet prays to “glory in the shapeless maps.” This prayer, at once ambiguous and plain, means: think the world of me, make me into the world or make the world out of me. Macrocosm, microcosm, and ego seem equally involved. Do by him, the poet prays, as he has done by himself. A maker himself, he has made a “merry manshape” of God’s “walking circle,” which includes all creation from zodiac to womb. (A Reader’s Guide to Dylan Thomas, 113)

Heady stuff, indeed, but the listener is encouraged to take in both music and words as a wash of sound, to let the density and musicality of the languages be their own justification. If I have a prayer for my own piece, it’s that it too can be a kind of “shapeless map”—alive with something of the complexity of the world around us, a bit inscrutable maybe, but imbued, too, with something of its beauty.



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Ars Musica’s concert season is made possible in part by a grant administered by the Bergen County Division of Cultural & Historic Affairs from funds granted by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.



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