Earth Speaks is a large 45-minute choral work that explores different perspectives on our earth through the lens of three Pasadena institutions. It was commissioned by Pasadena Master Chorale in 2015.
The first section looks at the earth through the lens of California’s Native Americans. After an exhaustive search for poetry from the Tongva tribe, the native people of the area that is now Pasadena, I found a single poem which is set beside two poems from other California tribes. The poetry speaks of their relationship to the earth, to rain, to one another, and to the modern civilizations that threaten to wipe their culture from the face of the planet.
The second section, Fault Lines, looks at the earth through its shifting motion, namely through earthquakes. As the US Geological Survey is headquartered in Pasadena, I was able to use their resources to find information on the seven largest earthquakes in California history. The text for Fault Lines is a combination of press releases modeled from USGS sources as well as portions of California poet Brenda Hillman’s beautiful work A Geology. Additionally, the entire section is modeled on the seismographic representation of an earthquake, from the rumbling P wave to the slowly recending aftershocks.
The third section, Curiosity, is in essence, Earth’s perspective on what lies beyond it, through the lens of the Mars rover Curiosity. Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent this rover off to Mars in late 2011, and it has since been roaming the Red Planet. The texts for this section are a combination of stops on the map that Curiousity has traversed as well as short haikus written by people around the world and submitted to an online haiku competition.
I wanted each portion of Earth Speaks to be intimately tied to Pasadena, but I also wanted it to be about topics that deeply affect people around the world. One of the most unique parts of composing this piece was delving so deeply into the many facets of the city of Pasadena, meeting the people who were passionate about those areas, and weaving their perspectives into a larger narrative. From the intricate writings of one of the great geological poets of California to a series of haikus written by amateurs of all ages around the world, from stops on a map of a rover’s journey on Mars to the magnitudes of earthquakes along the faultlines of California, from the words of the people who have lived in Pasadena for longer than history has recorded to the words of those who are newer residents with a different story to tell — each of these texts offers a unique and beautiful perspective on Pasadena, and on the Earth. I loved working with these texts and interweaving them through the medium of music — allowing each of these perspectives, each from a different place and time, to speak to one another.
Curiosity, the third part of earth speaks (in the video above) was first composed as a standalone movement — and is often still performed alone. Here is a wonderful video from the premiere performance of Curiosity:
This piece draws its text from a wide variety of sources, including living Native Californian poets, an online haiku competition for poems about the Mars rover Curiosity, US Geological Survey press releases, maps et al. If you have programmed this piece and are looking for a full text to publish in the program, please contact us.
This piece was commissioned by Pasadena Master Chorale. It was premiered on June, 29, 2015.
“I started thinking about how Pasadena has a lot of scientific institutions where the research that is done there is relevant through the entire world,” Esmail said. “I want people to come away being inspired by science and being inspired by history and maybe to be inspired to look into them a little bit further.” – San Gabriel Valley Tribune