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Nature Creature (musical score)

Songs on the beauty and complexity of being alive
Commissioned by Ruth MacKenzie, with funding from the Jerome Foundation
Lyon ~ Ignatow ~ Moore ~ Ammons ~ Erdrich ~ White ~ Hafiz

The beauty and complexity of being alive are woven into the sensuous fabric of Nature Creature. A compelling vocal work composed over a ten year period for vocalist Ruth MacKenzie, this musical experience is a song cycles, a jazz set, a musical theater piece. It is a passionate, intimate conversation full of joy, despair, and wonder.


July 30-Aug 9, 2020

With words by seven luminous writers – Louise Erdrich, George Ella Lyon, A. R. Ammons, Nancy White, Lilian Moore, David Ignatow and the mystic Hafiz – Nature Creature embraces our brief, glorious time on earth, with all its discovery, growth, contradiction, heartbreak and joy.

Nature Creature contains many opportunities for improvisation, embellishment and personal nuance. Performers are heartily encouraged to "make this work their own."

Individual songs available separately as sheet music or PDFs:

The Meadow Doesn't Know About the Stock Market
I'll Tell You a Story, then...
A Love Like That

CDs, sheet music or PDFs may be ordered below.
mp3s may be purchased at these online stores:

Nature Creature - Album Cover

Licensed PDFs are delivered by email. Sheet Music & CDs ship by UPS or USPS.
Orders are processed within 1-3 business days.
*More FAQs about Ordering Music*

Look Listen Instrumentation/Voicing Duration Level Item Delivery Method Price Quantity low voice, cello, piano - Piano/Vocal Score
This multi-movement work is coil-bound, with a cardstock cover. Please allow 5 business days for printing/processing.
45' MA SEA-121-00 Sheet Music
$28.00 low voice, cello, piano - Piano/Vocal Score
45' MA SEA-121-00D Licensed PDF
Nature Creature - CD
"THE END OF INVENTORY" SALE! Choir directors, add this item to your shopping cart and make me an offer in the COMMENT FIELD! (Or just send an email.) Retail price: $12.00
45" SEA-CD-03 CD

Nature Creature

Songs on the beauty and complexity of being alive

I. “Tree Song”
Poem by George Ella Lyon

Roots, trunk,
branches, leaves.
As a tree gives
so it receives:
food from
the earth,
rain and sun
from the sky.
Its roots
reach deep
and its crown
rises high.
in spring,
fruit in
summer and fall:
home for many,
shelter for all.

© 2009 by George Ella Lyon.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

II. The Meadow Does Not Know”
Poem by George Ella Lyon

about the stock market.
Today she is worth
exactly what she was worth
yesterday, a year ago, at creation.
I don’t mean property value,
taxable assets.  I mean
milkweed and copper moths
honeybees, cow vetch,
king snakes.  Meadow life
is not money.  What rises
and falls here are stems
and flowers, leaves and fruit.
No zigzag line of profit and panic
but the great wheel turning.
Here God gives of her
extravagance and here, like
flicker, viceroy, dragonfly
we come into our inheritance.

© 2009 by George Ella Lyon.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

III. Letter To a Friend”
Poem by Lilian Moore

Everything is lusting
for light,
splitting the earth,
opening flaring fading,
into shoot
into flower
beyond its hour.

Come soon.

The apple blossom has melted
spring snow.
The lilac
changed the air
every breath.

low in the field
wild strawberries fatten.

Come soon.

It's a matter of
And Death.

“Letter to a Friend” from Sam’s Place by Lilian Moore, published by Atheneum Publishers, Inc.
© 1973 by Lillian Moore.  Used by permission of Marian Reiner.


IV. I should be content”
Poem by David Ignatow

I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment
on my life.

“I Should Be Content” from Say Pardon.  © 1961 by Wesleyan University Press (Hanover, NH).  Reprinted by permission of the publisher

V. "Play”
Poem by A. R. Ammons

Nothing’s going to become of anyone
except death:
    therefore: it’s okay
to yearn
too high:
the grave accommodates
swell rambunctiousness &
ruin’s not
compromised by magnificence:

that cut-off point
liberates us to the
common disaster: so
    pick a perch —
apple branch for example in bloom—
tune up

drill imagination right through necessity:
it’s all right:
it’s been taken care of:

is allowed, considering

From Briefings, Poems Small and Easy. © 1971 by A. R. Ammons. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

VI. Excerpt from The Painted Drum
Novel by Louise Erdrich
(Formatted as a poem by Elizabeth Alexander)

Life will break you.

Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either,
for solitude will also break you with its yearning.

You have to love.
You have to feel.
It is the reason you are here on earth.

You are here to risk your heart.
You are here to be swallowed up.
And when it happens that you are broken,
or betrayed,
or left,
or hurt,
or death brushes near,
let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen
to the apples falling all around you in heaps,
wasting their sweetness.

Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.

© by Louise Erdrich.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

VII. Just Once I Want to Write a Gentle Thing”
Poem by Nancy White

I’ll tell you a story, then,
of how as I was walking, I smelled something sugary,
elusive, spicy, you could call it,
and smoky in a sad sort of way.  Also
like blossom barely born, pale and half-undone
to the wind that still might even be carrying snow,
this scent I decided to follow.
Sometimes I stumbled on the path, silver
with stones worn smooth as kindness,
or had to stop and rest among pines
where the smell settled a little, at home
with their religious and sensuous twang.  Other times,
I moved fast, snatching at its mulchy sweet threads
through the air, the leaf and rotten-meat ribbons of scent,
rough tongues of tigers who have recently feasted, the living decay
of happiness, and saddle soap, the lemon urgency of sex,
honey of the air — where did it come from?
I rose panting up the slope, muscles strung on the searching
bow of my body, raised the back of my hand
to wipe away the sweat
salting my lips
and realized the smell —
the smell is me.

© by Nancy White.  Reprinted by permission of the poet.

VIII. The Sun Never Says”
Hafiz, rendered by Daniel Ladinsky

             All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

              “You owe

          What happens
     With a love like that,
             It lights the

© by Daniel Ladinsky.  Reprinted by permission of the poet.

Composer's Note: 

For the lyrics I chose the most wise and visceral writings I could find, each brimming with discovery, sorrow and joy. While I originally thought of these songs as separate entities, over time I’ve come to think of them as inexorably linked, each possessing a different honest and heartbreaking key to the mystery of life.
In developing these songs I worked closely with vocalist Ruth MacKenzie, whose earth-grounded style helped keep me in touch with the ecstatic and primal energy that I wanted to capture.  Traces of her DNA thread through these songs, making them richer (like good compost). When we brought cellist Jacqueline Ultan onto this project a few years into the project, she brought another layer of expression to these songs: an internal utterance that cannot be expressed by words. I am indebted to my collaborators for their playfulness, vision and creative spirit.

Reviews and Responses: 

“A sound/composition [like] you’re never experienced…[with a] a new, exciting, almost-philosophical text.” – Becca Hart, Minnesota Playlist


* Premiere: Ruth MacKenzie, Jacqueline Ultan & Elizabeth Alexander (St. Paul, MN)

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