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Voicing: SATB div., and soprano solo
Text: William Stafford (1914-1993)
Duration: 9 min.
Premiere: April 11, 2001, St. Olaf College; Shannon Salyards, soprano; Jayce Ogren, conductor
Awards: Finalist for the Craig and Janet Swan Composer Prize
See the score: PREVIEW THE SCORE (pdf)
Published by: Abbie Betinis Music Co., AB-005-00
Order now: Online order form


Assurance: mp3, 9:01, 8.5 MB
Performed live by Sapphire Chamber Consort. Carrie Shaw, soprano solo. James Miller, conductor.


William Stafford woke at 4:00 every morning to eat toast and write. His texts are honest, and often rooted in the imagery of nature. Assurance, in particular, puts human fears of loneliness and desertion into the much larger context of constants in nature: the changing seasons, the growing of moss, the patient carving of rivers, the years.

While taking a class in African Music (incidentally in Eugene, Oregon, where Stafford died), I came across the Nigerian technique of melorhythm. Melorhythm is a group of rhythmic patterns sung simultaneously. Like the Renaissance hocket, a very clear melody is passed from voice to voice so that no individual sings the entire melody. In Assurance, the tenors begin, "Then the clouds' wide-mouthed..." accenting the word "the." The altos join with, "the clouds' whole..." The soprano phrase accents "wide." The melody woven between the voices eventually forms the final phrase of the poem: "The whole wide world pours down." As each singer listens and interacts with the other voice parts, the individual rhythms and melodies are woven into a grander texture of sound. From that texture emerges a single, soaring, melodic line: a line that nobody - and everybody - is singing. Just as the text confirms an underlying web of support and togetherness, the music, too, can only exist when everyone supports each other.

Assurance, completed in October of 2000 when I was 20 years old, was my first choral piece of now over forty. It premiered April 11, 2001 on "Voices of Healing," a full-length concert of my original work exploring the five stages of grief, where this piece represented the final stage: Acceptance. The recital, for which I was granted departmental distinction from St. Olaf College, celebrated the miraculous human healing process in general, but also my own journey of coming into "new" life after having had to leave school to undergo cancer treatment two years before. The 40-voice choir that premiered it was made up of devoted friends and classmates who had helped me heal more quickly through their love and emotional support.

In May 2002, Assurance was a finalist for the University of Minnesota's Craig and Janet Swan Composer Prize.

- Abbie Betinis, 2008
(9 1/2 years cancer-free!)

William Stafford (1914-1993)        

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightning before it says
its names -- and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles -- you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head --
that's what the silence meant: You're not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

Used by permission of Greywolf Press. This poem may be reprinted from this website ONLY for use in concert programs and for promotional use as related to this musical work.

Performed by:

"The Abb Choir" (Jayce Ogren, conductor)
Sapphire Chamber Consort (James Miller, conductor)

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