The Eleventh Hour

"In this short life" and "Look back on time" by Emily Dickenson (1830-1886)

SSAATTBB choir and piano

Finalist, 2017 True Concord Stephen Paulus Emerging Composer Competition

Available through manuscript

The Eleventh Hour is a programmatic work for SSAATTBB choir and piano that depicts the final moments of a sick and suffering loved one.  Setting two Emily Dickenson poems about the harsh realities of time, the piece utilizes aleatoric elements, haunting melodies, and textural shifts to initially demonstrate painful confusion, followed by brief clarity and solace, before succumbing to the chaos once again.  From the Composer's Notes:

Your world is grey and formless.  How long have you been here—minutes?  Months?  You feel pain—or maybe it is just an echo of pain… you cannot tell.  Dozens of tiny, far-off sounds float around you but remain intangible, like a mist of whispers and murmurs.  In a moment of clarity you summon a reserve of energy, directing your eyes to seek out something—anything—that is precise or distinct.  They only report the formless, shifting patterns of light and shadow you have come to know here.  You are adrift in the grey.  You are lost.

 

Slowly, a repeating chime emerges from the fog—a sonic beacon—and calls you toward consciousness.  The shadows wane, the lights become shapes, the sounds sharpen... 

 

You lie in a bed, surrounded by white walls, curtains, bright lights, machines.  A TV hanging from the ceiling glows.  Tubes run from your body to bags of liquid that float above.  A device to your side tolls a regular pulse.  At first, the room is harsh and cold... until we see the people.  Your spouse, your children, your closest friends are all here.  They surround you, radiating warmth and love, faces beaming while eyes glisten.  They tell stories and hold your hand.  You remember them all.  You remember yourself.  For a short while, nothing hurts. 

 

It is not long before you grow tired, distant.  Your eyes become heavy, and time start to slow.  The words of your family become jumbled, while somehow still having their meaning.  Your body aches again as you feel the heaviness of sleep waft over you. 

 

Yet it feels strangely different this time.  As the room disappears into swirling, ashen tones... as the tolling bell recedes and then vanishes... you feel lighter.  Still scared, but somehow safer.  Still tired, but somehow rested.  Peaceful, amid the dimming lights, the growing shadows, and the fading sound…  Still adrift, but not so lost...

 

The time was 39 minutes past the eleventh hour of the day.

The Eleventh Hour - MIDI realization
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Copyright M. Erpelding, 2020