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WorksChoral MusicMixed ChorusSongs of Smaller Creatures

Songs of Smaller Creatures
(formerly "Toward Sunshine, Toward Freedom")

I. The Bees’ Song
II. A noiseless, patient spider
III. Envoi

Voicing: SSAATTBB a cappella, soprano solo
Text: Walter de la Mare, Walt Whitman, Charles Swinburne
Duration: 10 min.
Premiere: Mvts I & II: Young New Yorkers Chorus, 2005
                Full premiere: Univ. of Minnesota Chamber Singers, 2006
See the score: PREVIEW THE SCORE (pdf)
Published by: Abbie Betinis Music Co., AB-035-03

Winner of the Univ. of Minnesota's Craig and Janet Swan Composer Prize
Finalist for the Young New Yorkers' Chorus Young Composer Competition

"Songs of Smaller Creatures was a beautiful a cappella “word-painting” for mixed chorus. Soprano Risa Larson was outstanding. Onomatopoeia abounded in the bees song; add some vocal bends and trills, and the illusory movement became really convincing. The tempo slowed for a noiseless patient spider, excerpted from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. [Grant] Gershon even worked the weaving theme into his gestures... The blend of the intricate counterpoint netted my attention with an inescapable allure. A butterfly came alive with her treatment of Charles Swinburne’s envoi: collections of repeated nonsense syllables. The singers are fantastic at this sort of device, and in the sublime acoustic of Walt Disney Concert Hall, the resonance and reverberation were perfect. The result was a beautiful, affective abstract language."
- Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA (Los Angeles, CA), June 11, 2013

"..whimsical pieces of musical onomatopoeia..."
- John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, June 29, 2011

"..clever and completely non-cutesy..."
- Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition, September 2012

"Abbie Betinis, 30, is one of our most impressive young choral composers. Songs of Smaller Creatures is a fine exemplar of her skill and individual craft. . .Under [Christopher] Bell’s alert direction, the singers of the Grant Park Chorus brought out the humor and imagination of Betinis’ settings superbly."
- Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review, Jun 29, 2011

Songs of Smaller Creatures (2005-6)
University of Minnesota Chamber Singers. Kathy Romey, conductor.
I. The Bees’ Song
II. A noiseless, patient spider
III. Envoi

Grant Park Chorus. Christopher Bell, conductor. (note: clicking on the links below will open Spotify)

"Songs of Smaller Creatures" comprises three short tone-poems for mixed a cappella chorus, each a character study on a small creature from the natural world.

The Bees' Song takes its silly text from British poet Walter de la Mare, who included no less than 33 Z's in his original poem. This setting highlights those sounds, as each part buzzes around looking for a nice cadence on which to land.

A noiseless patient spider, which takes its title and text from Walt Whitman's infamous excerpt from Leaves of Grass, compares the questing soul to a spider who launches forth her own web in order to explore the space around her. Beginning with each of the eight "spider legs" stepping slowly to the edge of a promontory, the voices soon begin the process of weaving a web of their own.

Envoi turns Charles Swinburne's simple text into a flocking of a mass of butterflies. The nonsense syllables propel the piece while providing a subtle flapping of tiny wings, as if the singers are suddenly there in the thick of the migration.

Each movement is dedicated to a close friend of the composer.

- Abbie Betinis, 2006

Songs of Smaller Creatures

I. The Bees' Song
Thousandz of thornz there be
On the Rozez where gozez
The Zebra of Zee:
Sleek, striped, and hairy,
The steed of the Fairy
Princess of Zee.

Weighty with blossomz be
All the Rozez that growzez
In thickets of Zee.
And he nozez the poziez
Of Rozez that grozez
So luvez'm and free.

Thousandz of thornz there be
On the Rozez he knowzez
Weren't honeyed for he,
But to breathe a sweet incense
To solace the Princess,
Princess of Zee.
- Walter de la Mare (1873-1953), edited & adapted by the composer

II. A noiseless patient spider
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark'd how, to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them – ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing – seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form'd – till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
- Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

III. Envoi
Fly, white butterflies, out to sea,
Frail, pale wings for the wind to try,
Small white wings that we scarce can see,

Some fly light as a laugh of glee,
Some fly soft as a long, low sigh;
All to the haven where each would be.
- Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

These three texts are in the public domain, and may be reprinted from this website for use in concert programs, liner notes, and for promotional use as related to this musical work.


Chicago Choral Artists (Emilie Amrein, conductor) - Illinois
Grant Park Chorus (Christopher Bell, conductor) - Illinois
Los Angeles Master Chorale (Grant Gershon, conductor) - California
Madrigalia (Lee Wright, conductor) [mvt 3 only] - New York
Renegade Ensemble (Stanley Rothrock, conductor) - Minnesota
Rudsambee Company of Singers (Oliver Singleton, conductor) - Edinburgh, Scotland
University of Minnesota Chamber Singers (Kathy Romey, conductor) - Minnesota
Utah Chamber Artists (Barlow Bradford, conductor) [mvt 3 only] - Utah
Young New Yorkers Chorus (Nathan Davis, conductor) [mvts 1 & 2 only] - New York

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