“The Hill has Something to Say”

“The Hill has Something to Say” is a composition by Craig Harris, based on a poem by renowned poet Rita Dove. The poem expresses the depth and meaning of all that has unfolded through time on the hill, and reinforces the thread that holds all time together in us. This work was commissioned for soprano Renée Fleming, and premiered in 2000 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, with Richard Bado on piano, on a concert of live American composers.

“The Hill has Something to Say” was written for Soprano, Piano and Amphora. The composition can also be performed by Soprano and Piano alone. This recording includes Norah Long as soprano, with Craig Harris on piano.

  The Hill Has Something to Say
 Rita Dove

 but isn't talking.
 Instead the valley groans as the wind,
 hoots its one bad note.
 Halfway up, we stop to peek
 through smudged pine: this is Europe
 and its green terraces.
 and takes its time.
 What's left to climb's inside us,
 earth rising, stupified.
 : it's not all in the books
 (but maps don't lie).
 The hill has a right
 to stand here, one knob
 in the coiled spine of a peasant
 who, forgetting to flee, simply
 lay down forever.
 bootstrap and spur
 harrow, and pitchfork
 a bugle a sandal
 clay head of a pipe
 (For all we know
 the wind's inside us, pacing
 our lungs. For all we know
 it's spring and the ground
 moistens as raped maids break
 to blossom. What's invisible
 sings, and we bear witness.)
 if we would listen! Underfoot
 slow weight, Scavenger Time,
 and the little old woman
 who lives there still. 

About the Amphora

The amphora sound is a full-bodied, breathy, resonant, pure bottle tone, like the whistling of the wind surrounding and embracing the hill, heard as if one could quiet the outside world and internal turmoil long enough to really listen to its ebb and flow. The sound originates in long blown bottle tones, thrust into an ever moving, ever breathing exchange with the piano, over which the voice finds expression in the poetic circumspection of life as viewed through the lens of this slowed state of being. The blown bottle tones were sampled, transformed, and integrated into a computer program to trigger by the performer live on stage, by the pianist, or by a live offstage operator. Renée triggered the sound tracks live for the premiere performances.

Here is a review of the 2000 premiere performance by Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times.

The Hill Has Something to Say was underwritten by the American Composers Forum, with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation, and by the Hanson Institute for American Music. “The Hill Has Something to Say” from Museum: Poems by Rita Dove, Carnegie Mellon University Press, Pittsburgh, PA. © 1992 by Rita Dove. Reprinted by permission of the author.