I first encountered “Today, Under Darkened Skies, I Watched the Water Breathe” in a Facebook post by Dr. Jeanette Gallant, November 2022. After reading it, I was struck by the contemplative and introspective qualities of the poetry, as it delved into the themes of beauty, resilience, hope and the interconnectedness of the natural world and our human experience. It later came to my attention that Jeanette had written this poem in response to receiving news about her cancer diagnosis. Her ability to find solace in the rhythms of nature and her desire to share her words to inspire others deeply moved me.
I am grateful that Jeanette granted me the privilege to compose a choral piece inspired by her poem. Over the years, we have embarked on numerous musical adventures together, and this collaboration is a beautiful continuation of our shared tradition.
The poem is structured into four stanzas, each beginning with the recurring phrase, “Today, under darkened skies.” This repetition serves to create a sense of continuity and rhythmic progression, underscoring the unfolding story of her experience. In crafting the melody, I sought to continue the same melody but weave it with different voices through the verses, further emphasizing the work’s thematic thread.
The poem’s title, with its emphasis on “darkened skies,” conveys the idea that even in times of darkness or adversity, there exists beauty and wonder in the natural world. I tried to harness this imagery to construct a musical tapestry of emotions designed to hopefully have the listener experience the subtle yet profound moments of connection between themselves and the environment.
In the initial stanza, the powerful ebb and flow of the tidal waters acts as a reminder to breathe in challenging times. To personify the water, the lyricist attributes human qualities to it, endowing it with a sense of profound dynamism. The water’s inhalation of “crackling stones” and its exhalation “powerfully upon the ocean shore” are accentuated in the music, underscoring how both human frailties and strength are reflected in the natural world.
The second stanza introduces “rays of light”, a contrasting image that depicts a sudden burst of light piercing through darkened skies. The text, “painting glimmers of hope,” symbolizes a moment of optimism or enlightenment, reflected in the brighter tones of the music. The juxtaposition of darkness and light underscores the notion that even in the bleakest moments, beauty and inspiration can emerge.
In the third stanza, we encounter the sounds of “breaching whales” whose “mists of wonder” emphasize the sonic mysteries inherent in nature. This serves as a reminder not only to see but listen to the vastness and intricacy of the world beyond our immediate understanding.
The final stanza describes how the earth mirrors our human experience, particularly in the phrase, “dancing timelessly between challenge and grace.” Musically, a dance-like feel is used to reinforce the idea that nature serves to reflect human emotions, while offering solace and insight to those who take the time to observe and connect with it.
In conclusion, the piece is an example of how music and poetry not only can converge to promote healing through the imagery of nature, but can be relatable to those who have faced struggles and sought meaning, solace, and inspiration in their lives.
The Vancouver Chamber Choir will premiere “Today, Under Darkened Skies”, Friday, September 22, 2023. Pacific Spirit United Church.
Compositions & Arrangements
I’m open to arranging existing songs and hosting workshops and residencies.
Have a look through what works best for you and your choir.