Virginia-The West was commissioned by NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble of Indiana University under the direction of Dominick DiOrio. The work was officially premiered at Indiana University in Bloomington and subsequently performed at Weill Recital Hall in New York City. It is also my first piece for a cappella ensemble, and I found the challenge of writing it extremely fun. I have a great love of poetry, and when I set a text, the music is completely at its service. This is very much the case with Virginia. Walt Whitman’s poem from his cycle Drum Taps is fairly straight forward in its meaning: a thinly veiled criticism of the South for their secession and their rending the country in two. The North, by contrast, is seen as the youthful savior coming to heal the country. The nation itself, the “Mother of All” as Whitman calls her, is the victim, and toward the end of the poem she directly questions the Rebels: “…why strive against me, and why seek my life, when you yourself forever provide to defend me…”
The text is not long, but it contains so many shifts of character and scene that it was quite difficult to set for the ensemble. The music shifts along with the text quite faithfully, so that other means were required to link these contrasting sections together, while at the same time trying to clearly delineate musically the different characters of the poem, all within four minutes! As such, it is a difficult work to perform, but I am extremely happy with the performances given by NOTUS, and my sincere thanks go to them and Dominick for their efforts.