For: soprano, tenor, SATB chorus, and orchestra

Year: 2008

Movement Titles:
1. Make Big Plans
2. Noble Design
3. Long After We Are Gone
4. Our Sons and Grandsons
5. Your Watchword

First Performance:
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus.
Jonita Lattimore, soprano.
Bryan Griffin, tenor.
Carlos Kalmar, conductor.
Christopher Bell, chorus director.
June 19, 2009, Millennium Park, Chicago.

Full orchestra, SATB chorus, soprano and tenor soloists

Duration: 40'

Libretto: Daniel Burnham's most famous quote, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood..." For the complete text, please see Program Note below.

...its fervent waves of choral and orchestral sound give post-modern voice to the great urban planner's earnest vision for Chicago in the century of modernism. The scale of the music matches the scale of the city's magnificent front yard.
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

Plans is an appealing, melodic, and smartly crafted work that deserves a concert life beyond the local interest and ceremonial occasion of its Chicago premiere.
Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

Program Note:

Modernism in the arts and architecture has had such a stranglehold on these fields that it has taken generations both to loosen its intolerant grip, and bring back into perspective alternate achievements both before and after. By mid 20th century Daniel Burnham, the architect, was almost forgotten, even sneered at, and if an American composer wrote a symphonic piece in a key signature in the 1970s, he was all but laughed off the stage. By the first decade of our new century much has changed: modernism seems almost quaint, and, led by the post modernist movement, older forms and ideas have been restored.
That a popular book “The Devil in the White City” could bring about almost a fanaticism over Burnham’s accomplishments, and that an present day orchestral composer frequently broadcast over classical radio stations with listeners phoning in their support—would have seemed absurd just 30 years ago!

That’s why when I was commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival to write an oratorio using some famous spoken words of Daniel Burnham, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Plan for Chicago, not only was I was inspired, but composed and delivered the piece some eight months before the contractual deadline!

In the cynical times we live, what with the economic downturn, it might seem odd to proclaim, Make big plans! What our sons and grandsons will do will stagger us!  But there once was a time when thinking big in conjunction with order and beauty was thought to be the recipe for making lasting and meaningful things.  In other words, art can either reflect the squalor, pain, and suffering of human existence to find its credibility, or it can appeal to things outside of humans, and in that transcendence raise the spirits of man.  I believe firmly believe in the second choice.

I divided up Burnham’s famous quote into five phrases, and each phrase became a movement.  I then let the words guide the music written.  The first movement, “Make Big Plans,” is panoramic and thrusting; while the second movement, “Noble Diagram,” has a grid-like 8th note patterns with sustained floating vocal lines. “Long After We Are Gone,” features the soprano and tenor soloists building canons around an extended melody, gracefully suggesting “an ever-growing insistency,” which contrasts the aggressive fourth movement, “Our Sons and Grandsons,” with extroverted orchestral passages and vocal shouts reinforcing the excitement of future generations’ achievements.  Finally, “Your Watchword” organizes four lines of classical counterpoint offering that beauty comes out of disciplined order.

I have no fear of repeating words.  The text becomes a thematic line to develop, as I would with a musical theme.  Just as I don’t need countless musical themes to develop a large scale musical structure (sometimes just one theme per movement will suffice), I don’t need lots of words to fill up a 40 minute oratorio.

Below are the movement titles and the corresponding text. 

1. Make Big Plans
Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work...

2. Noble Diagram
...Remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die,

3. Long After We Are Gone
[but] Long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.

4. Our Sons and Grandsons
Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.

5. Your Watchword
Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.