Joyce Hope Suskind

Joyce Hope Suskind has enjoyed a varied career as composer, concert singer, oboist, pianist, and teacher. After completing her studies at Juilliard as a scholarship student in oboe and voice, Suskind discovered her talent for composing while playing improvisational piano at the Martha Graham School. She received a commission from Lehman College to compose a score for a Balinese dance which was written for gamelons, flute, and percussion. She went on to specialize in vocal music, composing a score for a musical comedy, a revue, a feminist anthem, which was her first published song, cabaret songs, and numerous art songs, most of them set to the poems of WB Yeats. She is currently interested in composing vocal chamber music. She resides in Manhattan, her hometown.

Meditations on War and Peace (2006)

Composed for voice, clarinet, and piano, the music is set to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Butler Yeats, and Morgan Alexander (with the composer's collaboration on the lyric of the song Chalk of Time).

Composers note:

When I came upon an untitled poem in the collected poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins that began, “The times are nightfall”, I gasped and said to myself, “Oh my God! We are living in those times”. A profound feeling of desolation, of despair, came over me. I sat down at the piano and started to play what became the song “War”. The line “Or what is else?” revealed a shift in consciousness in the poet that required a corresponding shift in the music. I accomplished that by going from minor to major (pentatonic), which let the light come in. This is the only section in the entire suite that is in a major key.

That shift of consciousness in the poem came from the spiritual depths of Hopkins, who was a Jesuit priest. Seeking and possibly finding “the world within” resides in the great mystic traditions. It is difficult to find a secular parallel to this. A notable exception was the response of Viktor Frankl, the great psychiatrist who survived the tortures of incarceration in a concentration camp. He said, “It is not what happens to a person that affects them, but how they choose to look at what happens to them. The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude”. He was able to save his sanity because of that choice.

Yeats doesn’t deal with the personal, but with a civilization out of control. The Irish and Russian Revolutions, and the First World War have devastated Europe. The Christian god cannot hold it together. An era is coming to an end. The old god will be replaced by another, unknown and terrifying.

Meditations on War and Peace

1. Chalk of Time
2. We Start in the Sun
3. War
4. Peace
5. The Second Coming

Chalk of Time
text by Morgan Alexander and Joyce Suskind

The bomb shatters the dream
The cry curdles the lullaby
The wail ferments the sunbeams
And you stand alone
In the chalk of time.

The knife pierces the flesh
The scream voices the agony
The troops tumble the dust
And you stand alone
In the chalk of time.

When the mist turns winter cold,
Cover me with a blanket of dawn;
Out of the silence is woven a warmth
As the threads of the days wear on.

The truce announces the birth
The earth heralds the future
The sun beckons the journey
And you stand alone
In the chalk of time.

We Start in the Sun
text by Morgan Alexander

In the quiet morning
Bring me sleep in a wooden bowl;
In the eagle dawning
Cover me with strawberry vines.
We start in the sun
With kisses and sand;
We end when the raindrops fall
One by one.

In the naked sunlight
Gather wood for a blazing fire;
On the jagged skyline
Hawks with bloody claws.
We start in the sun
With banners and emblems;
We end when the monarchs fall
One by one.

In the smoky twilight
Set the wild dogs free in the wood;
Hear the sky’s warning;
Hide in caves from charcoal death.
We start in the sun
With kisses and sand.
We end when the bombs fall
One by one.


Gerard Manley Hopkins

The times are nightfall, look their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone;
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success;
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one –
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does fear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal


Gerard Manley Hopkins

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?—I’ll not play hypocrite

To my own heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are these words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight; somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

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