Christina Whitten Thomas

Commissioned Repertoire:
Resilient Voices
Kindness

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Christina Whitten Thomas’ works have been performed throughout the United States including premieres at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Disney Concert Hall. Christina has received commissions from the Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Singers, the Golden Bridge, the Seraphim Singers of Boston, the Denver Women’s Chorus, Vox Femina of Los Angeles, the Esoterics of Seattle, Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC, the Middlebury College Choir, the Apollo Men’s Chorus of USC, and the Vermont Choral Union. Her awards include 1st place in the NDSU Edwin Fissinger composition competition, 1st place in the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir competition, 1st place in the Los Robles Master Chorale competition, 1st place in the Park Avenue Christian Church competition, 2nd place in the NATS Art Song Composition Award, the Sorel Conductor’s Choice award, and the Sorel Medallion. Her choral cycle Choral de Bêtes can be heard on Musica Sacra’s 2012 CD release Messages to Myself. She is particularly committed to writing for the voice and is passionate about working with contemporary poets and original texts.

To learn more, visit https://www.christinawhitten.com/

Repertoire

Resilient Voices

Premiered in the 2021-2022 concert, Music They Wrote

SSAA Work

Lyrics

I. Belonging

Unashamed, she proclaimed,
”This is who I am.
Art is my gift.
Art is my calling.
I belong here.”

II. Falling Silent

The stage is bare.
My home is dark.
This lean season brings
Emptiness within.
Who am I without my work?

III. Returning

Face to face
We talk together in this sacred place.
We speak what must be spoken
And heal what has been broken.
Rejoice!

About

After being awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, VOX was thrilled to commission this 3 movement piece. With cello and piano, this work focuses on stories of women from our past, present and future. This work honors the historical importance of art in our lives, the despair we feel when we cannot express ourselves, and the triumph of creative expression overcoming all obstacles.

 

Kindness

Premiered in the 2016-2017 concert, Women on the Rise

SSAA Work

Lyrics

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

- Naomi Shihab Nye

About 

Words from founding member Mary Read, who commissioned this piece: 

"Commissioning a new work for Vox Femina, celebrating both the 20th anniversary season of the chorus and my dear wife’s upcoming 75th birthday, was an exciting and inspiring process. What began as a search for the ‘perfect’ birthday present evolved into a call to celebrate the common core values that unite women across the globe in the struggle for equality, dignity, and peace. I spoke to our founding Artistic Director, Dr. Iris Levine, well ahead of our 20th season, knowing her program planning and design takes shape a year or two in advance of performance. With her blessing, I searched for the lyrics that would convey all I have in my heart for the women I love – Liz and my chorus. I spent a whole summer reading poetry to Liz, noting which particularly touched her heart. Then, in last year’s March concert, Iris had members of the chorus read poems to introduce each set of songs. As if happens, I read the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye. Each time I read it, both Liz & I were deeply touched by the words, moving from profound loss to the transcendent value of kindness. We realized we’d found the lyrics for the commission.

Iris then suggested Christina Whitten Thomas as the composer, and the match was made. Vox had previously sung one of her works, “Mornings with You”, and it had always engaged me both musically and emotionally. When she accepted the commission, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to hear the piece, receiving the score and a midi recording just as our 20th anniversary season began. The first read-through by the chorus gave me chills, and I couldn’t sing a note for the emotions welling up inside. It was so beautiful – tender and compassionate, gentle yet strong – so womanly in every way. I knew Liz would be thrilled, too.

As the concert approached, Liz invited her friends and family to attend and hear the commission’s world premiere.  In the pre-concert talk, I interviewed Christina about her process in developing the work, sharing with the audience how she, too, was moved by the poem and the over-arching need for kindness as a beacon in today’s world. She noted that the poem juxtaposes the details of everyday life with the most profound sensation of loss. To capture that musically, Thomas writes ever-growing musical phrases for each section of this metaphorical journey towards an understanding of kindness. In descriptive gestures that start small – “Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth” – these details and sensations eventually culminate in a central lesson about realizing empathy.

Singing the premiere of the piece filled my heart with love and pride and a feeling of connection to the audience in a profound way. The moments of silence after the hall took in the final measures, the roar of applause and acclamation for the composer and the chorus, the acknowledgement of a wonderful woman who has lived three-quarters of a century modeling kindness in all her actions – I’ll cherish those memories always. I had no idea what commissioning a work would be like – it’s fantastic! I highly recommend it!"