Wild Songs

Polly Butler Cornelius

innova 825

Steve Heitzeg (b. 1959)

Wild Songs

1. The Last Roundup 

(Rachel Carson) 3:27

2. Rattle the Cage / Bend the Bars 

(Jane Goodall)  7:50

3. Wild Mercy 

(Terry Tempest Williams) 3:24

Lori Laitman (b. 1955)

Four Emily Dickinson Songs        

4.Will There Really Be a Morning?  1:45

5. I’m Nobody  2:08

6. She Died  2:09

7. If I…   2:29

Steve Heitzeg

Three Graces for Hildur

Poetry by Emily Dickinson

8. It’s all I have to bring today 1:58

9. Ample make this Bed  2:04

10. The earth has many keys  2:15

Steve Heitzeg 

11. Loveblessing  3:16

Text: Corinthians I 13:4-7, The Bible

Steve Heitzeg

12. Is Everybody Else Alright?  2:01

(in memory of Robert F. Kennedy)

Text: Aeschylus and the last words 

of Robert F. Kennedy

Total: 35:02


Thoughtful preparation went into selecting the music on this recording. Several of the song texts are by American poet Emily Dickinson, while other poetry is taken from the Bible, the Greek poet Aeschylus, and the late Robert F. Kennedy.  I conducted personal interviews with the composers, did close readings of the poetry, analyzed the songs, and included my personal insight as a performer as I attempt to deliver a strong emotional impact when performing these beautiful and intellectual songs.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet known for writing eloquent, concise and simple verses. She incorporated themes of love, longing, and death through the use of metaphors and imagery within her poetry. Her chosen themes seem to parallel her own life and confusion about religion. Dickinson was known as a recluse and spinster, and most of her poems were neither found nor published until after her death.  The settings of Laitman and Heitzeg are no exception to these perceptions of Emily Dickinson. Laitman chose to set four Dickinson poems because they allow for a dramatic, musical flow. The last song in the cycle was composed for Laitman’s father on his 80th birthday.  New music advocate Linda Hoeschler commissioned Steve Heitzeg to compose Three Graces for Hildur in honor of her mother, Hildur Wederquist Lovas. Heitzeg decided to set these specific Dickinson poems because they are about nature, grace and beauty.  “The earth has many keys” is such a wonderful phrase,” said Heitzeg “and I wanted to create a pastoral and bucolic mood in this song cycle.”  Modeled after Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, the piece is structured in three movements and is a symbolic reference to three classical graces of nature: the beauty of a meadow, an old country cemetery and the earth herself. Heitzeg possesses a gift for lyricism and is able to capture the essence of each poem through his intricate treatment of melodies. He uses much mixed-meter, one of his compositional techniques that enhances the syntax and allows the singer to convey the text. His accompaniments provide imagery through text painting and provide an environment for each poem.

The text of Loveblessing is from the Bible, I Corinthians, chapter 13, verses 4-7.  Commissioned by Jim and Barbara Willis for their daughter Lani’s wedding, the song features a memorable melody that wraps assurance and tenderness around the text.

Is Everybody Else Alright?” was premiered by Polly Cornelius and Victoria Fischer Faw at Elon University on September 8, 2008. This song features two texts.  The first is from Aeschylus, who was Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy’s favorite Greek poet. Kennedy read this poem to a gathered crowd on the night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  Later, these same lines were etched in marble on Robert F. Kennedy’s own grave at Arlington National Cemetery. The second text (also the title of the piece) is comprised of the words Kennedy spoke as he lay dying on the floor after being shot. Indicative of a life of deep commitment to working for peace and helping others, his final words illustrated concern for others’ well being: Is everybody else alright?

— Polly Butler Cornelius

Steve Heitzeg

Wild Songs for soprano, two percussionists and recorded Bonobo vocalizations

Commissioned by The Schubert Club in honor of its 125th anniversary and as part of the Wild Music Exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul 

Patti Cudd: Beluga Whale jawbones*, harmonic whirlies, 2 organic vegetable seed packs

Heather Barringer: 4 Korean gongs, marimba, piece of junk metal, pine cone rattle, 2 river stones, Chinese temple blocks, 3 Vietnamese temple blocks, Yupik frame drum

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) -recorded vocalizations (recorded at the Great Ape Trust, Des Moines, Iowa and provided by Dr. Patricia Gray)

Whirlies designed by Sarah Hopkins

Bonobo vocalizations mixed by Philip Blackburn

*The two Beluga Whale bones are jawbones from a stranded Alaskan Beluga Whale.  Bones loaned courtesy of Aleria Jensen, Barbara Mahoney, and Amy Sloan at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service.

1. The Last Roundup

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe all about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” — Rachel Carson, 1954

Lost Woods: 

The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

©1998 by Roger Allen Christie

With a quote by Rachel Carson, the revered biologist and ecologist whose 1962 book Silent Spring stopped the widespread and reckless use of DDT, this movement honors birds, butterflies, spring and Rachel Carson herself.  The soprano’s dance-like melody is woven into the mixed meter sounds of the marimba and organic seed packs as rattles.  At one point, the percussionists shout “No GMOs!”, a reference to the potential hazards of genetically-modified organisms for humans, other species and the planet.  The movement closes with the soprano singing a robin’s song in canon with a plush toy robin.

2. Rattle the Cage / Bend the Bars

“Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.” 

— Jane Goodall, Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace.

© Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE

This is a protest song against human destruction of the Great Apes and other beings.  The movement opens with percussionists playing marimba and harmonic whirly to set up a kind of universal drone and healing energy, while the soprano sings a Jane Goodall quote.  Next follows an interlude of small episodes (for each of the seven chakras): Chakra Gibbon, Chakra Orangutan, Chakra Gorilla, Chakra Chimpanzee, Chakra Bonobo, Chakra Human, and Chakra Other Beings.  A chord progression in e minor and in 5/8 for marimba and harmonic whirlies carries this movement to its close, with the soprano sometimes singing the Goodall quote and sometimes hooting and oohing in lament with the Bonobo voices.

3.Wild Mercy

“The Eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with clasped hands that we might act with restraint, leaving room for the life that is destined to come. 

  To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause within our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace.

  We have it within our power to create merciful acts. 

  The act of restraint by the United States Congress in the name of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be the most powerful act of all. Call it The Act of Wild Mercy, an interval of silence sustained in the twenty-first century.”

— “Wild Mercy” © 2003 

by Terry Tempest Williams, 

from her book RED: Passion and Patience in the Desert published by Pantheon.  

Used by permission of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc.  All rights reserved.

This setting of Terry Tempest Williams’ beautiful poem Wild Mercy is scored for soprano, Yupik frame drum and two jawbones of a stranded Beluga Whale.  It is an austere and wild plea to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Lori Laitman (b. 1955)

Four Dickinson Songs

4. Will there really be a morning?

Will there really be a morning?

Is there such a thing as “Day”? Could I see it from the mountains

If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?

Has it feathers like a bird?

Is it brought from famous countries

Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar!

Oh some sailor!

Oh some Wise Man from the skies!

Please to tell a little Pilgrim

Where the place called morning lies!

Will there really be a Morning?

5. I’m Nobody

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you Nobody too?

Then there’s a pair of us

Don’t tell!

They’d advertise, you know!

How dreary to be


How public, like a Frog!

To tell one’s name the livelong June

To an admiring Bog!

I’m Nobody!

Don’t tell!

5. She Died

She died.

This is the way she died.

And when her breath was done

Took up her simple wardrobe

And started for the sun.

Her little figure at the gate

The angels must have spied,

Since I could never find her

Upon the mortal side

6. If I…

If I can stop one Heart from breaking

I shall not live in vain

If I can ease one Life from aching

Or cool one pain

Or help one fainting Robin

Unto his nest again

I shall not live in Vain.

Steve Heitzeg (b. 1959) 

Three Graces for Hildur

Poetry by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Commissioned by Jack and Linda Hoeschler in honor of Linda’s mother, Hildur Wederquist Lovas.

7. It’s all I have to bring today

It’s all I have to bring today–

This, and my heart beside–

This, and my heart, and all the fields–

And all the meadows wide–

Be sure you count–should I forget

Some one the sum could tell–

This, and my heart, and all the Bees 

Which in the Clover dwell.

8. Ample make this Bed

Ample make this Bed–

Make this bed with Awe–

In it wait till Judgment break

Excellent and Fair.

Be its Mattress straight–

Be its Pillow round–

Let no Sunrise’ yellow noise

Interrupt this Ground–

9. The Earth has many keys

The earth has many keys.

Where melody is not

Is the unknown peninsula.

Beauty is nature’s fact.

But witness for her land,

And witness for her sea,

The cricket is her utmost

Of elegy to me.

Poems by Emily Dickinson used by arrangement with the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, Ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and fellows of Harvard College.  All rights reserved.

Steve Heitzeg

11. Loveblessing

Text: Corinthians I 13: 4-7

Commissioned by Jim and Barbara Willis 

Love is patient and kind

Love is not jealous or boastful

It is not arrogant or rude.

Love does not insist in its own way,

It is neither irritable or resentful.

It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.

Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Steve Heitzeg

12. Is Everybody Else Alright? 

(in memory of Robert F. Kennedy)

Text: Aeschylus and the last words spoken by Robert F. Kennedy 

“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget

Falls drop by drop upon the heart,

Until in our own despair, against our will

Comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” 

— Aeschylus

“Is Everybody Else Alright?”  

— The last words spoken by 

Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy 

POLLY BUTLER CORNELIUS, soprano, is an international performer of opera, oratorio, and song recitals. She has created a niche for herself by premiering contemporary American songs written by living composers. She performed recitals of American music, including the art songs on this recording, in the San Dominico Auditorium in Foligno, Italy (2010) and the Universitá per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy (2008, 2010). She performed American music as part of the Ludwig Diehn Series in cooperation with the Norfolk Chamber Consort and the ODU Literary Festival (2011), and the Duffy Composers Institute (2010) in Norfolk, VA. Cornelius has received awards and recognition from many organizations including the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, The Fort Worth Opera Company, Shreveport Opera, and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NC Artist Award). She has performed leading opera roles with the Greensboro Opera Company, Piedmont Opera Theatre, The Opera Company of North Carolina, Opera Carolina, and the Brevard Music Festival. Highlights of her solo career also include work in the Duke Chapel, and at the French Embassy and Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, DC. She has performed soprano solos with the North Carolina Symphony, the Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Music Festival, Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, the Elon University Chamber Orchestra, and the American Institute of Musical Studies orchestra in Graz, Austria. Cornelius has worked with distinguished conductors including Evan Rogister, Joseph Colaneri, Robert Moody, Benton Hess, Valery Ryvkin, and the late Norman Johnson. She holds performance degrees from Converse College (BM) and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (D.M.A., M.M.). Also a dedicated and sought-out teacher, her voice students are performing leading roles on Broadway, off-Broadway, on National Broadway tours, on the hit television series Glee, as well as in regional opera houses and theaters throughout the United States. This is her debut solo recording.

VICTORIA FISCHER FAW, piano, received her musical education at Centenary College of Louisiana (B.M. in piano performance), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (M.A. in musicology), the University of Texas at Austin (M.M. and D.M.A. in piano performance), and the Vienna Conservatory in Vienna, Austria (Rotary Foundation Fellowship). She pursues an active career as performer, scholar, teacher, and adjudicator, with activities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Italy, Hungary, England, Greece, Germany, Austria, and Belize. Now in her twenty-first year on the music faculty at Elon University, she has also served as Visiting Professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and the University of Belize.  In addition to performing and teaching a varied repertoire of the standard keyboard literature, Dr. Fischer specializes in the music of Béla Bartók. A first-prize winner of the Bartók-Kabalevsky International Piano Competition, and recipient of the 2004 Regional Artist Award of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, she is in demand as a performer, scholar, and clinician. She is the author of a number of publications, including Bartók Perspectives  (Oxford University Press), edited with Elliott Antokoletz and Benjamin Suchoff, a chapter contributed to A Bartók Companion (Cambridge University Press) and an article in the 2006 volume of The International Journal of Musicology. 

Heather Barringer is a percussionist and artistic co-director of Zeitgeist. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a BM in Music Education in 1987, and also studied at the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory, studying with Allen Otte from 1988-90. In addition to performing and recording with Zeitgeist, she is a member of Mary Ellen Child’s ensemble, Crash, and has worked with many Twin Cities organizations, including Nautilus Music Theater, The Dale Warland Singers, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and Ten Thousand Things Theater.

Patti Cudd is active as a percussion soloist, chamber musician and educator. She teaches percussion and new music studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the College of St. Benedict/St. Johns University and is an active performing member of Zeitgeist. She received a Doctor of Musical Arts in Contemporary Musical Studies at the University of California studying with Steven Schick, Masters of Music at the State University of New York at Buffalo where she worked with Jan Williams, undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and studied in the soloist class with a Fulbright Scholarship at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen, Denmark.  She has participated in the Bang on a Can Festival at Lincoln Center, Frau Musica Nova in Cologne, Germany, Mexico City’s Ciclo de Percusiones Series, The North American New Music Festival, The Mirror of the New, Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella Series, New Progressions Series, Copenhagen Composers’ Biennale, Nove Hudby Plus Festival in Brno, Czech Republic, and the Festival Cultural Zacatecas. 

Steve Heitzeg is an Emmy Award-winning composer recognized for his orchestral, choral and chamber music written in celebration of the natural world. His evocative and lyrical scores frequently include naturally-found instruments such as stones, manatee and beluga whale bones, and sea shells.  His music has been performed by leading orchestras and ensembles  including the Atlanta Symphony, Auckland Philharmonia,  Chanticleer, Daedalus Quartet, Dale Warland Singers, Minnesota Orchestra,  Philadelphia Orchestra  and VocalEssence, as well as at the Cabrillo and Grand Teton music festivals.  Conductors from Marin Alsop to Osmo Vänskä have conducted his works.  Addressing social and environmental justice issues, Heitzeg’s music includes Nobel Symphony, Voice of the Everglades, Wounded Fields, Aqua (Homage to Jacques Cousteau) and World Piece.  In 2008 the James Sewell Ballet debuted his Social Movements and the Daedalus Quartet premiered his Song Without Borders at the United Nations in New York City.  Current commissions include works for the Des Moines Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra in 2012.  


Lori Laitman is one of America’s most prolific and widely performed composers of vocal music. She has composed two operas, an oratorio, choral works, and over 200 songs, setting the words of classical and contemporary poets, among them the lost voices of poets who perished in the Holocaust. The Grove Dictionary of American Music will include an entry on Laitman in their 2012 edition. In May 2013 Opera Colorado will present the professional world premiere of her opera, The Scarlet Letter. Laitman’s discography continues to grow, with releases on Albany, Naxos, and others.


This recording was made possible in part by an Elon University Faculty Research and Development Summer Fellowship. Wild Songs was recorded July 6-8, 2011, at the Maud Moon Weyerhauser Recording Studio at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul, MN. All piano-vocal works were recorded in May and June, 2011, at Ovationsound Studios in Winston-Salem, NC. 

Recording Engineers: Cameron Wiley (MPR) and Evan Richey (Ovationsound)

Produced by: Polly Cornelius and Steve Heitzeg.

Special thanks to Clay Stevenson and Elliot Mazer for finalizing post-production. 

Photos: Steve Heitzeg by John Noltner; Lori Laitman by Devon Cass. Others by Philip Blackburn at Kumquat Cottage, Belize.

Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn, director, design

Chris Campbell, operations manager