Which Way Home?


For Chamber Ensemble and Soprano on poetry of Anne Sexton.
soprano with violin, viola, cello, clarinet/bass clarinet, piano (2009)

for soprano with violin, viola, cello, clarinet/Bass Clarinet, piano




13 min.


soprano, violin, viola, cello, clarinet/bass clarinet, piano


Anne Sexton


I. Music Swims Back to Me
II. Ringing the Bells
III. Snow
V. Her Kind
VI. Us

Program Notes

When I was asked to write a song cycle by the glorious soprano Alicia Berneche on the topic of “Women Poets Who Committed Suicide,” I was a little taken aback. However, when she explained that she was doing a recital on this subject, inspired by an article she had read about the way in which suicidal poets have used language differently from non-suicidal ones, I became interested. At her suggestion, I looked at a few different poets and immediately fell in love with the manic, crazy and utterly brilliant poetry of Anne Sexton. Sexton suffered breakdowns and attempted suicide several times before finally succeeding in 1974, at the age of forty-six. She went in and out of mental institutions, yet was still able to maintain a family and create a sizable body of work.

Much of Sexton’s poetry is ‘confessional’ in that she puts the unadorned details of her life on display for all to see. For example, Music Swims Back to Me is about her experience in a mental institution: “They lock me in this chair at eight a.m. and there are no signs to tell the way,” Although there is much darkness, there are happy moments as well, and she also became quite religious at one point in her life. I have selected poems primarily based on their appeal to me as well as their potential for taking on music, but also have tried to give a glimpse into this woman’s life by showing a small cross-section of her work. In the cycle, there are crazy and tragic moments as well as happy and awestruck ones.

Three years ago, Alicia again approached me and proposed arranging a few of the songs for the wonderful Orion Ensemble. I was thrilled, and after consulting with the Orion, ultimately ended up expanding five of the eight poems, but also adding a new intro and recomposing several sections, so that the result is actually a new work with its own dramatic arch.

Drew Hemenger

Drew Hemenger’s works have been commissioned by the the Boulder Philharmonic, Rogue Valley Symphony, AIDS Quilt Songbook @ 20,  The Auros Ensemble, Chamber Music Yellow Springs, Sweden’s Duo Con Forza, the Goldman Memorial Band, Madrid’s Jones & Maruri Cello/Guitar Duo, The Lively Arts at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Chicago’s Orion Ensemble, pianists Pascal and Ami Rogé, Symphony New Hampshire, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Commercial recordings include Songs from America recorded by the Jones&Maruri Cello/Guitar Duo on EMEC Discos, an EP of Four Places in New York recorded by pianist Henry Wong-Doe on Hemenger’s own label, and Her Final Show by Anthony Dean Griffey and Thomas Bagwell on GPRecords; produced in collaboration with Sing for Hope, the CD includes music from the AIDS Quilt Songbook @ 20 concert on World AIDS day 2012 at Cooper Union.

Winner of Boston University’s 1996 ALEA III International Composition Competition, Hemenger’s residencies and fellowships include the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Banff Centre, Omi International Arts Center, and the Bowdoin and Aspen Music Festivals. He has also served as Composer-in-Residence for the New York-based dance company, RamosDance.

More Products from Drew Hemenger


There are no reviews yet.

Be the first to review “Which Way Home?”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Questions and Answers

You are not logged in