In Heaven, Hereafter

Human!
2. Consider Dear Little Hens
3. The Path of Sorrow
4. Tweedle, Tedel, Bebbee, Pinky
5. Ada Queetie
6. Beauty Linna
7. To God I Cried
8. Till All Things Have Their End

SATB divisi, mezzo-soprano solo, organ | Duration c. 22’00”

Available soon from GIA Publications

Temporary perusal score below

In Heaven, Hereafter is based on the life and writings of Nancy Luce, a fascinating folk hero and nineteenth-century resident of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Known variously as ‘The Chicken Lady of Martha’s Vineyard’ and ‘Madonna of the Hens,’ among other monikers, Nancy was particularly well-known for the peculiar relationship that she shared with the barnyard bantam hens that lived with her in her little cabin on Tiah’s Cove Road. Tourists and islanders alike would travel to West Tisbury to visit her, and Nancy, recognizing an opportunity to scratch out a meagre existence as a kind of living tourist attraction, played up her eccentricities and cultivated a personality that would entice curiosity-seekers from miles around. She had photographs taken of her holding her favorite hens, and she sold these portraits, as well as eggs and her little books of poetry, to the people who would come to her cabin. In spite of her ragged and at times frightening appearance, she was, in many ways, a keen entrepreneur and an effective business-woman.

 

Though she played on her peculiarities to survive, the bonds that she shared with her hens were very real and important to her and were cause for an enormous amount of joy – and an equal, if not greater, share of suffering. Nancy was notoriously ill and frail for most of her life, and when her beloved hens passed away it only exacerbated her medical complaints. She was constantly harassed by the local youth, who would bang on her windows and doors, cuss her out, and throw stones and logs over the fence into the chicken graveyard that she so meticulously maintained. Throughout all of her suffering, however, Nancy maintained a zealous belief and trust in God, knowing that the trials she underwent in life would dissipate when she eventually followed her beloved hens to her “long home.”

Nancydoodle.jpg
 

In Heaven, Hereafter has evolved several times since I first conceived of it one year ago. Over the course of composing this work, I discovered – thanks to Nancy’s poetry and the keen insight of several Martha’s Vineyard residents – that Nancy effectively lived a double life. To the outside world, she presented the eccentric character that was her only means of survival in such harsh conditions. Privately, however, Nancy held a remarkable depth of feeling for her hens, the only true friends she had in the world, that was rooted in her belief that she had been charged with their care by God himself. She lamented the suffering of all living things, and urged all humans to follow what she called “Our Saviour’s Golden Rule”:

            Be you to others kind and true,
            As you’d have others be to you,
            And never do nor say to them,
            Whate’er you would not take again.

My initial reaction upon discovering Nancy and her work was one of incredulity and amusement, and I would imagine that most people encountering her story for the first time would have a similar reaction. The Chicken Lady of Martha’s Vineyard? How strange! That reaction is the result of encountering the external life of Nancy Luce. With continued study, I began to understand the depth of Nancy’s inner life – that her affection for her hens, however strange it may seem on the surface, was rooted in a depth of love and feeling for another of God’s creatures. Musically, In Heaven, Hereafter follows this trend of discovery on the part of the observer. The opening movements are bright and insistent, even funny at times, but they soon give way to a deeper examination and understanding of the real Nancy Luce; her fears, her beliefs, and her core message. Because above all things, Nancy’s message was one of kindness – not only kindness between humans, but to the poor, harmless, dumb creatures of the earth.

It should be noted that In Heaven, Hereafter is also intended as a companion work for Benjamin Britten’s cantata Rejoice in the Lamb. I have been seeking to pay homage to Britten’s work since I performed this staple of the choral literature with James Jordan and Williamson Voices during my time at Westminster Choir College, and it wasn’t until I discovered the story of Nancy Luce that I found the occasion to do so. I offer my sincere thanks to the following people and organizations for providing me this opportunity, as well as for contributing to the legacy of Nancy Luce:

 

St. Matthew’s Church, Northampton

Cristian Cantu

Austin Cantorum

Laura Gillett

Laudamus Chamber Chorale

Sam Paul

Con Anima Chamber Choir

Anthony J. Maglione

William Jewell College Concert Choir

Jim Roman

Mary Dolch

Dan Waters

Carand Burnet

Bow Van Riper

John and Susan LaVoy

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum

James Jordan

The Same Stream

Peter Boak

Pamela Butterick

The Island Community Chorus

Justin Miller