NOTE: This is the chamber version of the work — it is scored with no divisi so that as few as four solo singers can sing it. While it can technically be performed with piano (from the piano/vocal score), it works best when accompanied by string quintet, flute and harp.
The genre of women’s choral music is very special to me. The first piece of music I ever wrote, at age 13, was for the choir at the all-girls middle school I attended in Los Angeles, long before I knew it was even possible to be a professional composer. Each of the movements of I Rise: Women in Song is inspired by the words of a female author who has shaped our world with her thoughts and actions. Some of the movements are sweet, subtle, and nostalgic. Others are fiery and bold. Some coalesce into their shape as they move along and others unravel towards their ends. Each movement is a reflection on a single facet of the multifaceted experience of being a woman in this world.
I Rise: Women in Song is not just my work – it is the product of so many incredible women and their creative spirit: the four authors whose words are the centerpiece of this work (Emily Dickinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou and Arlene Geller), the wonderful Lehigh Women’s Ensemble – Dolce, and the many other singers who are joining them for this performance, and of course, their incredible conductor, Sun Min Lee, whose vision and belief in this piece of music has inspired me at every step of the creative process.
These are recordings of the full version of the piece. The chamber version differs only in some rescoring and in the performing forces required. The music is basically the same as the full version.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear – The Beauty of Their Dreams, Eleanor Roosevelt
(Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. Reprint on a public site not authorized by estate.)
She heard the song by the river
And reached to capture every note
Holding her treasure close to her heart
Her muse heard her river song
And a crescendo filled
The head, the heart, the soul
And they harmonized
They sang a song for the downtrodden
And the forgotten
Those cast off made whole again
Those ordinary made extraordinary
Through the magic of music
With her muse by her side, she flourished
Her voice, uplifted, heard by every woman
Her sisters joined her
Across the oceans and continents
Singing with one voice, one song
– River Song, Arlene Geller
Love is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath
– Love is Anterior to Life, Emily Dickenson
(Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Reprint on a public site not authorized by estate.)
This piece was commissioned by Lehigh University Choral Arts for their women’s ensemble, Dolce, conducted by Dr. Sun Min Lee. It was premiered on November 5-6, 2016 at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, PA.
“Some of the movements are sweet, subtle, and nostalgic. Others are fiery and bold. Some coalesce into their shape as they move along and others unravel towards their ends. Each movement is a reflection on a single facet of the multifaceted experience of being a woman in this world.” KUSC.org
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. The purpose of life, after all is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly, and without fear.”
The women of the May Festival Chorus radiantly sang these words of Eleanor Roosevelt in “I Rise: Women in Song” by Indian American composer Reena Esmail on Saturday in Music Hall. It was an uplifting conclusion to the 2021 Cincinnati May Festival, and left us with a positive vision even as America begins to reopen from the worst pandemic since 1918.
The concert concluded with two movements from Esmail’s “I Rise: Women in Song.” The first, “The Beauty of Their Dreams” (Roosevelt) was ravishing, both for the tone color of the chorus as well as for the instrumental writing featuring lyrical solos for cello and flute. “River Song,” to texts by Arlene Geller, presented the chorus in flowing, weaving counterpoint, and ended on a note of ringing beauty.” — Cincinnati Business Courier