2019-11-01 Michael Merrill

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Posted on 2019-11-01
By Laura Hawley

Michael Merrill – composer

Composer Michael Merrill reflects on his sublime work, “Heaven-Haven”

Tomorrow night, our Mozart | Martin program will open with a piece that has touched our hearts very deeply. Heaven-Haven, by American composer Michael Merrill, has moved many of us to tears with it’s stunning harmonies that seem to express the following text with just perfect simplicity.

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea

Author: Gerard Manley Hopkins


Here, Merrill shares some reflections on his experience composing this work, and his inspiration. 

“It’s very rare that a composer gets to sit down and just write music. Usually it’s a very slow, messy, and frustrating business of trial and error with more than a few hairs being pulled out of your head. But for reasons I still don’t know, Heaven-Haven wasn’t like that. It seemed so simple, and was written in just a few hours while I was a resident composer at the Banff Centre in February 2019. And even now, looking at it from a critical standpoint, it is quite a simple little song. Four parts, no splits, barely two minutes long, and the tune just repeats itself twice. And yet, though it started off as a simple compositional exercise, this piece is perhaps my favourite thing that I’ve ever written.

The text by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a sentiment that we have all felt, that of longing for a better place, away from the turmoil and strife that seems to encircle us like great mists of darkness. The way he describes this paradise for which he longs reminded me of my grandparents’ cabin in the Little Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming. It’s a small, one-room building right on the edge of a meadow, surrounded by beautiful pine trees. It’s a haven from everything that modern life sends to clamour for our attention It’s a place so peaceful, one might even call it “heavenly.”

Whenever anyone hears my setting of Heaven Haven, it’s my sincere hope that the music and the text somehow take them to that special place where “a few lilies blow,” and “no storms come.” In fact, to get a little personal, that was the whole reason I wanted to become a composer in the first place – to give people a break from the world, a safe place for when they feel life is too much, a little taste of the familiar home we hope to reach one day.”

~Michael Merrill

Heaven-Haven is the first sponsored work in our Library Sponsorship initiative, and this piece has been sponsored by Michelle Andrews, “For my partner in life, Ed Andrews, to mark our 40th wedding anniversary. You are always my port in the storm.”  

We look forward to performing this piece tomorrow, Saturday November 2nd, 7pm in our “Mozart | Martin” program at All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral, 10035 103 Street, Edmonton; along with Stephanie Martin’s Winter Nights, Mozart’s Requiem, and works by Vivancos and J. Ch. Bach with our wonderful collaborators, Orchestra Borealis.