Sweet Briar Songs


three songs for voice and piano (2007)

Composer: Dennis Tobenski

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May 18, 2007
Tobenski-Algera Concert Series
Rob Frankenberry, tenor / Marc Peloquin, piano
Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy / NYC
Patricia Valdata
commissioned by Rob Frankenberry
1. Moore’s Garden
2. Looking for Bivalve
3. Fall Semester: First Frost
I wrote the Sweet Briar Songs in April/May 2007, after having returned from a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst VA, where I had met poet/writer Patricia Valdata. Pat had given me a copy of her chapbook Looking for Bivalve, and I was instantly drawn to the three poems used in this set of songs.“Moore’s Garden” is a quasi-recitative that opens reflectively with a meditation on a beautiful garden setting, accompanied by delicate, harp-like arpeggios. As the text and music become more lyrical, the song is interrupted at the words “but for the toad”, where the voice is suddenly alone, and is only joined by a sickly accompaniment at the words “bleeding, in the snake’s mouth.” The descending-scale vocal line of the phrase “fully imaginary” become a unifying motive throughout the entire set.

“Looking for Bivalve” is a short, silly song. The singer is reciting absurd roadside landmarks and map markings. The triplet accompaniment suggests a car in motion on side roads, periodically slowing or stopping to check the map, which we discover at the end, isn’t quite as accurate as our traveler had hoped.

“Fall Semester: First Frost” closes the cycle lyrically, describing the changing of the leaves and the season on a college campus. A little slice of life, the song ends with a quiet moment: “Through the window / pigeons watch ‘ my students take their exam.”

Dennis Tobenski (ASCAP)

Dennis Tobenski is a composer of acoustic new music, a vocalist, and a strong advocate for new music and for the interests of living composers.

Dennis’s Only Air, a 20-minute work for high voice and orchestra memorializing the gay teenagers who have taken their own lives in recent years, was commissioned by the Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra, and has been performed in a chamber version by The Secret Opera in New York and members of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony.

In February 2016, he and pianist Marc Peloquin released their first album together, a disc of art songs by living American composers titled And He’ll Be Mine.

Dennis also hosts the Music Publishing Podcast and The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business: two music business-centered podcasts aimed at helping composers and performers to learn more about the practical aspects of their careers.

Dennis received his B.Mus. in Vocal Performance and Music Theory & Composition from Illinois State University, and his M.A. in Music Composition from The City College of New York.

His principal teachers have included David Del Tredici, Daron Hagen, and Chester Biscardi. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for Composers Now, and the Board of Directors of the KeyedUp MusicProject. Dennis lives in New York City with his husband Darien Scott Shulman and their cat Pistachio.


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