The 200th anniversary of Pinkerton Academy will have a special choral and orchestral piece to mark the milestone, and students will be in on the process.
Tom Quigley, director of the Fine Arts Department at the semi-private high school, announced this week that Andrew Boysen, a professor of music at the University of New Hampshire, will write a commissioned piece for the anniversary using words from a poem by Robert Frost, who lived in Derry and taught at Pinkerton.
Boysen visited the school this past Friday to meet with choral and wind ensemble students to update them on the process.
Quigley said the staff met with Boysen and gave him some “ideas of what we wanted.” They talked about what music groups Pinkerton had, and settled on a piece for choral and wind ensemble, he said. When Boysen visited on Friday, the students were to perform briefly for him and then hear his ideas.
“He will tailor the piece specifically for Pinkerton,” Quigley said.
With the choral students, Boysen listened to them practice two pieces, “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal” and “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel.”
Boysen chatted informally with the young singers. He told them that the poem “A Prayer in Spring” was one of Frost’s earlier pieces. “This is not one of the three or four Frost poems I remember from high school,” he said.
But the poem works, and spoke to him on two levels. “It’s the love of spring, and also a message behind it stop and appreciate what’s around you,” he said.
Boysen, who has children in high school and one in college, said the message was especially apt for young people. “You’re always thinking, ‘What’s next.’ It’s good to stop and think, where am I now,” he said.
Boysen said he was almost near the end of the composition, and working on the finish. He sketched the composition process with them, saying, “When you’re dealing with text, it’s different from when it’s just instrumental. So much of the text defines what the music will be.” The challenge, he said, is how to shape the piece to reflect the message of the text. For this piece, he wanted a strong sense of nature, he said.
For the final stanza, “For this is love and nothing else is love,” he wanted to send the wind ensemble out and just finish with the chorus.
Student Lauren Batchelder objected, saying, “I love big endings! Once you hear the big crescendo, the song is over. Isn’t that part of appreciating the moment before we’re gone?”
“What is the reason for a big ending?” a boy argued, to which student Brendan Landi replied, “Because we’re Pinkerton!”
Student Kyle Jackson said, “I’m not going to argue big or small, that’s up to you. But I’d like to see a sense of, there is so much more ahead of us so much history to be made.”
Senior Collin Coviello asked Boysen, “Are there any parts you’re excited about?”
There are a few things “I think are going to be cool,” Boysen replied. “And there are always some things that surprise me.”
Boysen shared some of his composing tricks, including the fact that he does not use a computer to compose. “I used to use big sheets of paper,” he said. “Now I have a long commute, and I do a lot of it with Post-it notes while I’m driving.” He did not recommend this for students.
His major impetus for this project, he said, is to produce something that’s uniquely Pinkerton and to make the most of the tie-in with Robert Frost. And that doesn’t necessarily mean showy. “I have written a bunch of anniversary pieces for various groups, and some of them have been big and loud,” he said. “If that’s what your administration had said they wanted, I would have done that.”
Several seniors, including Coviello and Mariah Larocque, pointed out that they will not be at Pinkerton in the fall, when the piece is premiered. “Can you give us a sample?” Larocque asked.
Boysen obliged, seating himself at the grand piano and saying, “We start with brass. It’s slow at the beginning…” He tapped out a pensive melody.
Then his fingers rippled over the keyboard in a livelier tempo. “Those are bees buzzing,” he said.
The poem, “A Prayer in Spring,” published in 1915, reads:
“Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today,
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night,
And make us happy in the happy bee,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.”