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WorksVocal SoloThe Clan of the Lichens

The Clan of the Lichens

      I. All Things Live
      II. Night and the Little Failures
      III. The Prayer Wind
      IV. A Tale for Children and Taller Ones
      V. The Clan of the Lichens

Forces: high voice, piano (Mvt. III also available for medium voice)
Text: Opal Whiteley
Duration: approx. 19 min.
Premiere: Nov. 21, 2004. Jennifer Tonko, soprano & Jocelyn Hagen, piano (Ultan Hall, Minneapolis, MN)
Commissioned by: The Linden Duo
See the score: PREVIEW THE SCORE (pdf, 1.2 MB)
Order online: Graphite Publishing


"Lichens" alternated bursts of melodic invention with dreamlike passages of impressionist harmony. In the work's highlight, its agile fourth movement, piano glissandi represented the endless flight of a comet that yearns for rest.
- The Manitou Messenger, St. Olaf College, May 2005


Lindsay Kesselman, soprano.
Christopher Lees, piano (mvts. I, IV). Thomas Jaber, piano (mvts. II, III, V).

These live recordings were sponsored in part by the American Composers Forum through its Encore program, supporting repeat performances of new works. These recordings are protected by copyright and are posted here with Lindsay Kesselman's permission.


Opal Whiteley (1897-1992), child literary prodigy and acclaimed Oregon naturalist, was famous for her bestselling childhood diary (1920), but also wrote some poetry. These poems, extracted from her little-known collection The Flower of Stars, were written when Whiteley was in her early 20's. Whiteley's unique and consistent mythology permeates all of her writing, and these poems are no exception. She often returns to such themes as the universal journey of man, the substantive nature of time, the purity of the color blue, the instinctual understanding of children, the music of the solar system, and a host of metaphors from nature to illuminate personal relationships. After a tremendous scandal in which the true authorship of Whiteley's celebrated journal was questioned, she became virtually unknown and died in 1992 in a London asylum.

The song cycle, which premiered in November 2004, was commissioned by Jennifer Tonko and Jocelyn Hagen, and the composer dedicates the score (with love) to them.

- Abbie Betinis

TEXTS for "THE CLAN OF THE LICHENS" Poems by Opal Whiteley
I. All things live
All things live;
The innermost thoughts of a man's soul
Walk the highway of the universe
And are seen by all the pilgrims
Who have gone before.

II. Night and the Little Failures                        
Night took up the web of life
And wove a star thereon
Of amethyst and silver glimmering.

From her rosary she drew a pearl
And gave its holding to this star
Lest coldness come to her heart

Also, Night took from her girdle, a rose
And caught in its petals the hour glimmering
That this star might be a flower
To shed its fragrance on earth fields.

So wove she into beauty
The little failures of man,
But his successes
She cast to earth again.

III. The Prayer Wind
There was quiet in the garden,
Save for the music
From the harp of stars,
When to its playing
Came the Prayer Wind
Wearing rose petal slippers
And twining for-get-me-nots
In her hair.

There was quiet in the garden
While the Prayer Wind
Dropped her for-get-me-nots
From twining in her hair.
They fell to earth
With the low sweet notes
From the harp of stars

They gently drifted down
And homes were gladder that day -
Nobody knew why, only
There were more blue-eyed children.

IV. A Tale for Children and Taller Ones
There is a little comet
That whirls around the world.
He is seen nearing earth,
But, mostly, he is seen
Dancing and prancing up and down
The high hall of heaven.

He goeth quickly,
Yet may be always with us.

He sparkles a song
Like a ribbon
Have you heard him sing?

"I'm so weary and lonely
Most people think me
A comet only…
My tail can be very big with light
But I'd like to go to bed at night.
I'll come with patter light
At latter light…"

V. The Clan of the Lichens
We will be gray
For the dumbness of old things
And we will be
Without form
As are old longings.
And we will be like petals
As are new yearnings.

And we will be
Gray with a little green
As are old hopes
That live on with a foreseeing
And a dream.

And we will cling
That no wind may part us
As old friends.

We will be a symbol
Of things grown old
And the beauty that yet is
When youth glory sleeps.

Poems by Opal Whiteley (1897-1992). To the best of my knowledge, these texts are in the public domain and may be reprinted from this website for use in concert programs and/or promotional materials.

Performed by :

Abbie Betinis, mezzo-soprano; Kait O'Neal, piano
Laura Betinis, mezzo-soprano
Jennifer Kult, soprano; Anatoly Larkin, piano
Jennifer Kult, soprano; Jocelyn Hagen, piano
Lindsay Kesselman, soprano; Christopher Lees, piano
Lindsay Kesselman, soprano; Andrew Fleser, piano
Lindsay Kesselman, soprano; Thomas Jaber, piano

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