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Sun Songs — Three Micro-Operas (2004)

For solo mezzo soprano and percussion trio
(May also be sung by a soprano or a countertenor)
Texts by Emily Dickinson

[The singer should have an excellent sense of theater and drama and dynamic acting skills.]
First performance: The Percussion Plus Project, Chicago, Illinois, 26 February 2006
Duration: 8 minutes




To interrupt His Yellow Plan
The Sun does not allow
Caprices of the Atmosphere —
And even when the Snow

Heaves Balls of Specks, like Vicious Boy
Directly in His Eye —
Does not so much as turn His Head
Busy with Majesty —

'Tis His to stimulate the Earth —
And magnetize the Sea —
And bind Astronomy, in place,
Yet Any passing by

Would deem Ourselves — the busier
As the Minutest Bee
That rides — emits a Thunder —
A Bomb — to justify —


Superfluous were the Sun
When Excellence be dead
He were superfluous every Day
For every Day be said

That syllable whose Faith
Just saves it from Despair
And whose "I'll meet You" hesitates
If Love inquire "Where"?

Upon His dateless Fame
Our Periods may lie
As Stars that drop anonymous
From an abundant sky.


It rises — passes — on our South
Inscribes a simple Noon —
Cajoles a Moment with the Spires
And infinite is gone —


Sun Songs — Three Micro Operas
for Mezzo-soprano (or Soprano or Countertenor) and 3 percussion
Program note by the Composer


If there's one thing Emily Dickinson knew for sure, it was what a good poem should do. "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry," she wrote. Dickinson was attempting to describe for her sister-in-law the power of poetry to envelop and even to devastate the reader (or listener). Her physical description was an effort to convey that successful poems are not weakling, tiny delightful breezes or passages or bookish exercises; they are chillingly theatrical and annihilating.

Composing for voice is my first passion in life, and as a result the largest part of my catalogue is music for voice: solo voice, chamber opera, small groups of voices, small or large choirs, with and without orchestral or other kinds of accompaniments. For me, the human voice ‹ possibly the most subtle, complex, and fragile yet forceful, flexible, seductive, and persuasive carrier of musical ideas and meanings ‹ has always been an inspiration for and influence upon my entire musical thinking. I sing when I compose. I adore reading poems, and cherish the opportunity to set them to music; and I believe that text plus music (1+1) must equal at least 24. If 1+1=2, there is no need, for me, to set the text to music.

Emily Dickinson's poems are intensely personal, intellectual, introspective, and offer a meditation on life, death, and poetic creation; her poems share a close observation of nature as well as consideration of religious and philo- sophical issues.

Poetry, the Belle of Amherst knew, is that form of communication in which words are never simple equivalents of experience or perception. The words themselves, the words as words, have a life as sounds, as images, as the means for generating a series of associations, and as such are very inspiring. Poets insist on seeing and hearing words as if each is a multi-faceted gem has, in the hands of the skillful artist, the capacity to resonate and to go in multiple directions at once.

Sun Songs ­ Three Micro-Operas, for Mezzo-soprano (or Soprano or Countertenor) and 3 Percussion was commissioned by DePauw University School of Music. Amy Barber and her colleagues presented the world premiere performance on 26 February, 2006. The Three Micro-Operas, all setting poems about the sun by Emily Dickinson, are colorful, varied, and last a total of about 8 minutes.

— Augusta Read Thomas



Vibraphone (2 bows needed and motor OFF except in movement #3 when motor is ON slow)
Graduated bell tree
Suspended cymbal
2 bongo drums
Extra large bass drum


Vibraphone (2 bows needed and motor OFF except in movement #3 when motor is ON slow)
Tubular Chimes
Sizzle cymbal
Chinese cymbal
Extra Large Tam-tam
2 maracas
Snare drum


Vibraphone (2 bows needed and used only in movement #3 when motor is ON slow)
Anvil (played with a hammer)
Mark Tree (graduated hanging metal wind chimes)

Sun Songs sketch

To obtain examination or performance material for any of
Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..