Composer's Note: "The Seed is in the Ground" (Part One)

choral music Composer poetry wendell berry

Although “The Seed is in the Ground” is the last piece of music on the album, it was one of the very first that I composed. This little poem was music to me the instant that I read it:
The seed is in the ground.
Now may we rest in hope
While darkness does its work.
(Sabbath Poems, 1991, V)

From Wendell Berry. New Collected Poems. 2013. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press.


The first thing that struck me was the white space that surrounded the poem, meaning that it was small enough to be read at a glance and that singing it would necessitate repeating words—that’s good news because these words bear repeating. (Read them again right now, I dare you.)

Next, I noticed the word “hope.” Can a composer hope for a lovelier, more singable vowel than the “o” in hope? In a word, nope.

Finally, I fell in love with the word “darkness.” Often, I associate the idea of hope with light, and so the connection to darkness caught me off guard. But in the life a seed, darkness is indeed the context of hope, where hope must be greatest, before the realization of that hope opens into the first glimpses of light and bits of green.

Not only did I love the poem when I read it, I loved repeating it in its entirety, primarily because I felt I learned something new with each repetition. And so I decided to follow that model—multiple, sequential, entire repetitions—in delivering the poem musically to an audience. Sometimes it’s fun to dismember texts to serve musical goals, but doing so in this case struck me as a potential misdemeanor. And I avoid misdemeanors. You should too.

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