Anthony’s Cosmic Adventures, a Choral Fantasy based on poems from
Frederick Winsor’s A Space Child’s Mother Goose. Music by John Metz
Variety! Opportunities for ensembles of various sizes!
Feature my best soloists!
Dear Choral Director: At first glance my 19-minute long piece might make you
wonder how you could fit it into one of your concert programs and still leave time
to showcase the various ensembles, styles of music, and soloists that you like to
feature. Please take a look – – this piece as a whole may be just right up your
alley. Let’s start with this recent quote from the Arizona State University Center
for Science and the Imagination, which has expressed enthusiastic support for
The Center for Science and the Imagination at ASU brings together writers,
artists, scientists and other creative thinkers to reignite humanity’s grand
ambitions for innovation and discovery. Ed Finn, director of the center, says that
science fiction continues to influence science today, leading to fascinating
discussions at the center.
I’m hoping that you will take a look at this choral piece, but to save you some time here’s
a summary. The whole thing fits together like the sort of variety experience that choirs
and their audiences have rightly come to expect in an evening of choral music: some
movements for full chorus, followed by various opportunities for smaller groups to be
heard, interspersed with a variety of solos, a duet, and concluding with a rousing choral
composition (in this case with an unexpected little “punch line.”)
It’s all based on very clever texts written in the mid-50s by someone who obviously loved
science and had a great sense of humor. I have tinkered with finding the best title for this
piece and have finally settled on “Cosmic Adventures, a Choral Fantasy based on poems
from Frederick Winsor’s A Space Child’s Mother Goose.”
1. The first movement depicts our “space child,” one Anthony Rowley, who is
determined, in spite of his mother’s wishes, to explore the universe. It’s a lively
movement in which the music reflects and depicts each of his various encounters.
There is a boogie-woogie section, and it ends quietly as little Anthony is tucked
into bed (and the choir yawns sleepily).
2. The second movement might sound slightly better with fewer voices, perhaps a
double quartet. It’s the beginning of Anthony’s travels, where he first discovers a
planet where the sheep have mutated to “Sable-furred cod, and even the pigs are
“quadratic’lly odd”. He shortly bumps into three sailors who are traveling in a
Klein bottle, “Since the sea was entirely inside the hall, the scenery seen was
exceedingly dull!” His next encounter is with a mouse Möbius strip. (See above
quote from ASU Center for Science and the Imagination.)
3. The third encounter is with Little Bo-Peep, whose sheep have been lost in parallel
space. “They’ll all, face-to-face, meet in parallel space, preceding their leaders
behind them.” Throughout this piece there are two solo sopranos, spread as far
apart as possible to the edges of the stage, quietly imitating the imaginary sound
of a radar-scope searching for the sheep.
4. In the original book the poet presented a sci-fi version of My Black Hen, which he
then translates into six different languages. I chose to set the English text as a
Country-Western style tune (solo voice), complete with a backup chorus and
optional guitar. That segues into Ma Poule Noir, which I set in the style of Édith
Piaf. This segues into Mein Schwartzhenn, a total sendup of Beethoven’s style.
5. Following this we get a very short set for male chorus, patterned after the style of
Welsh male choirs. Here the guys get to imitate bagpipes and then roaring
6. We suddenly change the mood entirely with the next to the last movement, for
solo soprano and solo tenor, in which the parents are monitoring their baby’s
sleep via satellite. I used a minimalist style of composition to create the utter still
and quiet of the scene. (Note, the author of these poems predicted the future of
satellite surveillance back in the mid-1950s!!)
7. Now we burst into the quiet with a energetic, jazzy text which takes “The House
that Jack Built” and turns it into “The Theory that Jack Built.” It’s loaded with
constant changes of texture, sections where the pianist or the conductor have to
speak, parlando sections for the choir, and a simple bit of acting where a child,
dressed in a spacesuit, comes out, pushes a large red button, which then prompts a
solo soprano voice in maximum glee and sarcasm to announce, “And demolished
the theory that Jack built.”
The lights go dark, Bam!
Nineteen minutes long, and you’ve provided a most unusual set within your choral
concert. Note one of my goals is to produce a high quality videotape of a performance
so that it can be posted where other choir directors might be attracted to the piece. I will
cover any expenses involved.
Please look it over.
DMA The Juilliard School
Emeritus Professor, Arizona State University
Teacher, MetzMusic, Waterford CT