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Exile: Two Poems by Brenda Hillman1999

A trio for soprano, double bass, and percussion commissioned by the California Association of Professional Music Teachers

In the 1990s I composed music for a short film called "Psychological Closure." Created by filmmaker Steven Blum, this excellent movie earned a number of honors in various film festivals, as did the music in the 44th Annual Columbus International Film and Video Festival. The score became the basis for "Exile." Brenda Hillman is a renowned poet and a colleague at Saint Mary's College of California. I'd long admired her poetry and was happy to set the two following poems, which I found poignant and musical:


EXILE (1980)

I had our story once but I lost it,

Perhaps to those facesmoving in the crowd

That I can’t seem to get to

Like flowers blooming in another room.

Summer is eaten by autumn,

And I give in, loving this new life,

Though I can’t speak the language here.

So I try not to think of what I was.

I confine myself to a few friends, Streets with smoke-filled windows.

The birds sound like doors, opening.

If I’m sorry I move on – How strange! to move on empty;

And I’ve forgotten you

Like a river that never heard of fish.



- You think about a poem too much. Like Spanish moss,It starts killing the tree!

Look: Berkeley spring.

A mockingbird has chosen you.

Try to follow his new short songs: buree, buree, cheat-sheet,

and the onethat sounds like maybe I will and maybe I won’t do any such thing.

Each time the gray feathers on the throat partit looks like another mouth

as though the song came from that.

But you? Your friend has been gone such a short time you can’t keep her voice in you yet.

Who is noticing her now? What is this to her?

So many shifts in that bird’s style – yet what a pleasure to watch him getting drunk on juniper berries,

resting lightly on his wing bars.

Pretty soon the borders won’t bother you either.Pretty soon your loved onewill speak forward: into this world –


Used with permission

"Exile" by Martin Rokeach began as an adaptation of music he wrote for a film in 1993 . . . The text setting is clever, exploiting the humorous and sensuous aspects of the words. For example, the witty second movement opened with soprano Susan Witt snapping her fingers in time as she repeated over and over "You think about a poem too much." For all of its lighter moments, the work also contained some striking sounds, notably double bass harmonics in combination with bowed vibraphone.


Rokeach_Exile, Two Poems by Brenda Hillm
00:00 / 12:23

Click below to listen to a live performance by soprano Susan Witt, bassist Randall Keith and percussionist Eric Thompson

Duration 12:00

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