Listen to "Weeping Mountains"
About the Music
Composer: Barbara Ulman
Composed from: 1999 - 2009
Performers: Composer's Choir - Daniel Shaw, Director
In the winter of 1997, torrential rainstorms flooded much of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding foothills and flat areas. Rachel Oliver begins her poem Weeping Mountains with a description of Earth: “Her heart beats through a white-hot core,” generating a heartbeat rhythmic pattern in the piano which continues throughout the musical setting.
The whole chorus enters with those initial words, followed by the separate vocal parts enumerating some of the beauties of Earth, “...Her hair is the green of prairies and trees....” The piano is silent as the entire chorus describes “Her children...” and their various activities. The music becomes more dissonant at the phrase, “One of these children would dominate all,” and “Earth trembles in protest....”
As the piano resumes its heartbeat pattern, the chorus sings, “In sorrow She weeps great tears of regret/ For allowing this being to despoil majestic creation...” with a slightly modified and slower version of the opening melody. As the chorus describes the destruction of the storm, the piano hints at earlier strains from the chorus. After observing the damage caused by the floods, “The arrogant creature...Knows he’s puny and weak now -- But just for a time....” The chorus sings these words in dissonant harmonies, ending inconclusively as the piano plays a phrase from Where Have All the Flowers Gone? that asks, "When will we ever learn?"
I began writing this music in 1999, and became so frustrated with notation software that I put it aside for ten years. By 2009, the software had improved, I had become more computer literate, and I had a wonderful mentor -- Dr. Brad Hufft -- who enabled me to learn the program and complete the composition.
About the Poet
Rachel Oliver studied voice at Smith College, in Northampton, MA, and in New York City, and for many years sang professionally. After earning a PhD in Psychology at University of California, Irvine, she worked as a psychologist in Mariposa, CA. Now retired from both singing and psychology, she writes poetry and nonfiction nearly full time. Her emphasis is on the natural world, though her subjects also include environmental and political activism, spirituality, and love. She lives in the foothills near Yosemite National Park, in central California.
Her heart beats through a white-hot core,
Charges creation’s pulse with life.
Her blood fills oceans, lakes, and clouds,
Carried by streams to her skin and bones.
Her hair is the green of prairies and trees,
Her skin the soil of mountain, sand of shore.
Her bones are stones, opals, and gold.
Her children are creatures who stalk and creep,
Sing, roar, feed, fight, mate, and sleep.
One of these children would dominate all,
Murder whatever he finds in his path.
Earth trembles in protest, but still he proceeds
To poison, multiply, ravage, spread.
In sorrow She weeps great tears of regret
For allowing this being to despoil
Majestic creation, beauty, life.
She blows hot winds to melt ice and break clouds,
Scours mountains, hillsides, streams;
Floods valleys, canyons, towns,
Pastures, levies, asphalt, barns.
The arrogant creature, once mighty and proud
Knows he’s puny and weak now
Just for a time.
Sheet music and audio file available at: