MOTHER TO SON FOR SOLO COUNTERTENOR VOICE & PIANO (2021)
Text: Langston Hughes
Instrumentation: solo countertenor (or mezzo-soprano) voice, piano
Commissioner: Aspen Music Festival & School
August 14, 2021. Wheeler Opera House, Aspen Music Festival & School.
Fleming Artist, Key’mon W. Murrah, and pianist, Manuel Arellano.
June 30, 2022. Chautauqua Opera: Afternoon of Song, Chautauqua, New York.
Mezzo-soprano, Max Potter, and pianist, Carol Rausch.
The Aspen Times: REVIEW: Glover, Ehnes and Yang take it up a notch at the music festival, August 17, 2021.
The Chautauqua Daily: Opera’s Evening of Song to feature Mary Prescott premiere, June 29, 2022.
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
- Langston Hughes
Mother to Son for solo countertenor voice and piano was written during my Composition Fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival & School in the summer of 2021. As part of the festival’s collaborative project between Composer Fellows and Fleming Artists, I had the privilege of writing this song for Key’mon Murrah, a rising countertenor star. Upon reading “Mother To Son” by Langston Hughes, I felt an immediate emotional connection with the poem. Although written by an African-American poet, the text did not fail in crossing the cultural boundaries - it resonated deeply with my own personal experiences of growing up in Hong Kong being raised by an immigrant mother and grandmother, both of whom went through life’s incredible hardships. In this song, which could also be sung by a mezzo-soprano, I try to musically highlight the universal theme in Hughes’ poem by blending bel canto style with elements of African-American folk sounds, traditional Kazakh and Cantonese pop music.
-- Meilina Tsui