Songs for Departing - FEEDBACK REQUESTED

UPDATE (2/2024)

Took down the recording, but will repost when I finish the new mix!


Hi All,

I am asking once again for feedback on a recent composition for any of you so inclined to take a listen... 

"Songs for Departure" is a 12-13 minute set of three songs based on a tripartite poem by Louise Bogan, scored for mezzo-soprano and two bass clarinets.

Text, score and link to the mockup below.

Caveat: while I am planning to send this to a singer to record in the next week or two, at the moment the singer is unfortunately just MIDI.



p.s. I know I've been derelict in commenting on other's music on this forum and hope to improve that in the future!!

Words for Departure

by Louise Bogan

Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten.
When we awoke, wagons were passing on the warm summer pavements,
The window-sills were wet from rain in the night,
Birds scattered and settled over chimneypots
As among grotesque trees.

Nothing was accepted, nothing looked beyond.
Slight-voiced bells separated hour from hour,
The afternoon sifted coolness
And people drew together in streets becoming deserted.
There was a moon, and light in a shop-front,
And dusk falling like precipitous water.

Hand clasped hand
Forehead still bowed to forehead—
Nothing was lost, nothing possessed
There was no gift nor denial.

I have remembered you.
You were not the town visited once,
Nor the road falling behind running feet.

You were as awkward as flesh
And lighter than frost or ashes.

You were the rind,
And the white-juiced apple,
The song, and the words waiting for music.

You have learned the beginning;
Go from mine to the other.

Be together; eat, dance, despair,
Sleep, be threatened, endure.
You will know the way of that.

But at the end, be insolent;
Be absurd—strike the thing short off;
Be mad—only do not let talk
Wear the bloom from silence.

And go away without fire or lantern
Let there be some uncertainty about your departure.


Songs for Departure.pdf

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  • I listened as far as 5'18", mesmerised by the mood the work cast. It felt almost surreal at times, fitting the words well.

    You've taken remarkably good advantage of the big compass and dynamic range of these instruments, the tempo (generally) contemplative, The tone modern but falling into moments of tonality that seemed just right (as in bar 31, for instance). I'm entirely happy with this style of composition. It's superb that you have got so much out of these resources.

    My only crit is that you should perhaps for demo purposes give the 'voice' more presence and the same attention to dynamics as you have the clarinets. I wasn't sure which instrument you used to represent the voice but it was clear enough.

    Your score is highly detailed and really this cries out for live performance. A lovely work.


  • Terrific John. It's a very powerful and sophisticated piece that delivers a fine setting.

    The singer is great but I felt she was a tadge too close for my tastes. That said she is so good, it didn't really distract from the overall effect and tbh,  I got use to it very quickly mainly because of the compelling musical narrative. On a second listen, that closeness might well have been a contributing factor to the intensity and emotion.  That said, a little more processing (just a tiny bit - maybe setting her back a few meters and a little splosh) , would still have been welcome for me. 

    The best I've heard from you over the years and I hope you keep exploring the vast richness and imagination inherent in the expressionist like language used here. I'd be proud of this if it was mine and I hope you are.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mike. It's been a while since I worked on a true concert piece like this, so I am especially glad to hear it resonating with others... And thanks for the feedback on the mix! I was playing around with it quite a bit in MIR etc and I found it tricky to get the right balance of instrument positioning and intimacy I think it needs. I will open the file up again soon with your comments in mind! Cheers!

  • Hello John -

    I really like this! I am a great admirer of the bass clarinet and wonder if you play the instrument itself, as you seem to have a great understanding of its technique and emotional potential. I am looking forward to hearing this with human performers.

    As an aside, with all the hoopla about artificial intelligence, perhaps someone is working on a computer generated voice that can enunciate words. Now that would be a worthy accomplishment!


    • Thanks, Ken! No, I don't play bass clarinet but a roommate in college did and I got to know the instrument fairly well through him and his music. BTW, you did listen to the version with the human singer, right?

    • John -

      Gosh, no. I do not think I did hear the human singer version. Where may I find it?



    • Hey Ken, sorry I took it down but will repost shortly. Thank you again for listening!

  • Wow!  With the singer, now the full picture is revealed. Beautiful and intense! I was amazed with the singer's performance, her lovely expressive voice, so naturally navigating the complexities of rhythm (and entrances) and pitch. Did you work with her during the recording? I feel you must have. (I can't imagine sending her the file and her doing it without you.)

    The words of this poem have a compelling and very dynamic realization with your treatment. Very Powerful.


    You are able to say so much with the limited instrumentation. (So much timbral possibilities with the bass clarinet! )

    A great artistic creation,  John.

    ps... have you heard Stravinsky's Ebony concerto?


    • Actually, although Ebony concerto highlights the clarinet, I was thinking of a passage from his Orpheus ballet, which I love.

      If you haven't heard that one, I think you would like it - written in 1947.

    • Thanks, Greg! I originally found her on Fiverr, but she's a real pro (I worked with her a few years ago to record a different song). I did send her some initial written direction, but this recording was just pulled from the first round of recordings (three takes of each of the three songs). There were a couple minor timing things to address but I was able to tweak those easily in Cubase.

      I think I've heard the Ebony Concerto and Orpheus, but if so, not in a very long time. I will check them out! 


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