Traveler’s Prayer was composed starting before and ending during the pandemic of 2020. The virus shifted the gravity of the words I was setting which were three short excerpts from Genesis, Exodus and Psalms. These excerpts are usually added to the full Traveler’s Prayer found in Hebrew prayer books. The first and last appeared earlier at the end of my WTC 9/11.
In translation they are:
Behold, I send a messenger before you to protect you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. (Exodus 23:20)
To Your lifeline I cling, Eternal, I cling Eternal, to Your lifeline, Eternal, to Your lifeline I cling. (Genesis 49:18)
The Eternal will guard your departure and your arrival from now till the end of time (Psalm 121)
While these verses can certainly apply to travels by air, car, or boat, they can also be applied to travel from this world to the next.
The first melody is from Biblical Hebrew chant in America and parts of Europe while the second is a more ornate style from Italy. I want to thank Cantor Philip Sherman for showing me how these two melodies, derived from the Biblical accents in the text, actually sound. The third melody I composed since, outside of Yemen, there is no existing tradition for chanting Psalms.
As to structure, there are extremely free canons throughout. The rhythm of the two voices is never the same and the second voice is often a retrograde, inversion or retrograde inversion of the first. Though I’ve known about these procedures since I was a student, this is the first time I’ve consciously applied them. It was a way, within an overall tonal constancy, to get subtly varying intervalic harmony. As the singer Micaela Haslam, observed, “The music sort of hovers and you lose yourself in the long vocal and string lines, until the very low piano quietly spells out where we are.”
Traveler’s Prayer is scored for 2 tenors, 2 sopranos, 2 vibraphones, 1 piano, 4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos. It is approximately 16 minutes long and was co-commissioned by Zaterdagmatinee Amsterdam, South Bank Centre London, Philharmonie de Paris, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Tokyo Opera City Foundation, Cal Performances and Carnegie Hall.