173. CFAMC Listening Page – William Vollinger

MARCH 2019
William Vollinger:
God’s Optimism
(six poems by Yehoshua November)
Lawrence Indik, baritone
Charles Abramovic, piano


The PDF is for viewing only. Please contact the composer for further use.


By the grace of God, I am a Christian, but I do work for a Jewish carpenter. And in recent years anything Jewish moves me deeply, quite beyond my understanding, and sometimes to the point of tears.. These poems by Lubavitcher poet Yehoshua November are a prime example. When I gave a copy of his “God’s Optimism” to our young friend Lewis Michelson, he said “Why, he’s in my congregation!” In Yiddish this is called a beshert,a God-incidence, which caused me to set some of these poems to music for my friend Lawrence Indik, who teaches voice at Temple University and also is a cantor. He does such a beautiful job in this recording on all levels!

The first song, How a Place Becomes Holy describes a first close encounter with God by a man on the street. Portions of the song are lifted from Mendelssohn’s aria “Lord God of Abraham” from his masterpiece Elijah, where he prays “let their hearts again be turned” with its most extraordinary interior harmonic example of a turning heart.

The second song, My Sweet Bride is a setting of Yehoshua’s epithalamium for his wife Ahuva. (My wife Chalagne and I shared a Sabbath meal with both of them, their five children, and their pet dove, who kept cooing throughout the meal.) But I had been frustrated, getting nowhere with the music (like sometimes happens to you, my colleagues) when a little tune kept running through my mind which I stubbornly didn’t pay attention to for a long while, until I finally wrote it down. It’s the monodic melody of the song that’s repeated on the piano while the singer supplies heterophonic elaboration with the text.

I decided to write the third song, Harpo when I was at the dentist’s office. (My dentist is the only person I know who actually asks me to open my mouth!) The air conditioner repairman at her office had a Harpo horn for a ringtone which kept going off. In this song I use a familiar tune whose title I don’t know that’s used when Harpo Marx makes his grand entrance in “Animal Crackers” just before Margaret Dumont honks his horn when she goes to shake his hand. It’s important to note that Harpo, the family man brother, makes use of both horn and harp, just like in the psalms.

A Jewish Poet describes the daunting challenge of not wanting to offend anyone, disbeliever, Christian, Solomon, David or even God, by what the poet says. This music is homophonic in a way that interests me and that also makes it more direct.

Climbing lifts the extraordinary sunrise scale from Haydn’s Creation three times: slower, faster and retrograde, representing the repairman ascending up a ladder into the ceiling only to return to this earth, just like the students praying in the yeshiva, or even you and I when we pray.

The final song God’s Optimism is the tour de force (or even tour de farce) where we are reminded that God sets everything in this universe into motion from nothing into something, recreating even our own lives. This song is based on the familiar Passover song “Dayenu”. The E-G-D-F-E-G-D-F of the tune becomes the stone that as a cluster lifts off the ground into the air and then spins off with those individual notes. And the significant last six chords are the final two “dayenus” of the tune. And there are other quotes such as Twilight Zoneand Hungarian Rhapsodyfor no apparent reason. I’m usually a stickler for not repeating or changing words, but not this time, where the song is a literal “take off” of both poem and tune.

I don’t know how important what I just described might be to anyone besides me, a kind of problem all us composers face with an audience, even an audience of fellow composers. But God hears every note we write even more than we can hear, which is why it’s good to listen when we compose. And He keeps encouraging us to not quit. So let’s not!


When you compose focus on God and not people and make the piece pleasing to him, and your piece will enter God’s glory, and God’s blessing and the Holy Spirit will come upon His people through your piece, and this will lift your piece to another level.


William Vollinger’s music is described as “3D: different, direct and deep”, performed by artists including the Gregg Smith Singers and NY Vocal Arts Ensemble, whose performance of “Three Songs About the Resurrection” won first prize at the Geneva International Competition. His music is published by Abingdon, API, Heritage, Kjos, Lawson-Gould, and Laurendale. Five works were editor’s choices in the J.W. Pepper Catalogue. Recent premieres included Jackson State Symphony, San Francisco Choral Artists, Ridgewood Concert Band, Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony and Garden State Philharmonic. In the past three years, ten of his compositions have been nominated for the American Prize, with “Stalin and the Little Girl” receiving a Judge’s Citation for Vocal Music “Exceptional Theatrical Sense in a Unique Monodrama” in 2017 and “It Takes a Long Time to Grow up in New Jersey” receiving a Judge’s Citation for Band “Recognizing Theatrical Skill and Real Humor” in 2018. Hartshorn Recordings has released an album of his works this year.