Program Notes

When Music Sounds, Ronald Perera

When I was invited in 2015 by Prof. Thomas Kelly to compose an original piece of music for his Harvard course “First Nights,” my thoughts turned to a choral work on poems about music. Each of the three poems in When Music Sounds, by Walter de la Mare, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Emily Dickinson, respectively, concerns an aspect of how music affects us. The original version of the piece was scored for chorus with piano accompaniment. This version with string quartet and piano accompaniment was commissioned by the New England Classical Singers.

Walter de la Mare’s poem “Music,” from whose first line the title of the whole composition is taken, expresses the way in which hearing music can alter the way we experience reality, heightening our susceptibility to dreams, visions and “ecstasies,” and making us feel truly alive. In a world where many of us go about our daily life with a musical soundtrack plugged into our ears, the mood altering effects of music are available to us in a way that goes far beyond what Walter de la Mare could have imagined.

Shelley’s 1821 poem “Music, When Soft Voices Die” speaks of the power of music to live in memory long after the sounds themselves have been stilled. Through our sense-memory we can re-experience events in our past and even seem to reawaken people we have loved and who have died.

– Ronald Perera, 2019

In Memoriam: Ronald C. Perera (1941 - 2023)


The Coro Allegro family mourns the recent passing of composer, colleague, and dear friend Ronald Perera. Ron was a gentle, giving soul, and his kindness extended far beyond the world of music. Coro performed many of his choral works, most notably Why I Wake Early - a setting of eight poems by Mary Oliver - for which Coro gave the Boston premiere, performed at the GALA Choral Festival in July 2012, and recorded on the Navona label, all to great acclaim. Coro will also perform his When Music Sounds at the 2024 GALA music festival, a performance that Ron had hoped to attend. Ron and his wife Jay were frequent concert attendees, and avid supporters and ambassadors of Coro. Ron will be sorely missed, but his voice and legacy will carry on through his extraordinary art.

"Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory...And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone, Love itself shall slumber on."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley 1821

Luminous Night of the Soul by Ola Gjeilo

Luminous Night of the Soul is the brighter, sunnier, sequel to Dark Night of the Soul, [a magical poem by St. John of the Cross (1542-1592)], published in 2011. Both works are independent pieces that can be performed separately, but they are also conceived as two movements of the same work. Part of the reason for the solo cello passage at the introduction to Luminous Night is that I wanted a quiet respite from the saturated washes of sound that are such a big part of Dark Night. The essential link between the two pieces is a theme that is featured towards the end of both works, but featured in very different ways. While the end of Dark Night is lyrical and romantic, the finale of Luminous Night is exuberant and relentless. Luminous Night incorporates words by Charles Anthony Silvestri, in addition to the two stanzas from St. John of the Cross’ poem “Dark Night of the Soul.” The two pieces are both influenced by a wish to feature the piano more heavily in choral music, not just as generic, unassuming accompaniment, but as an equal partner to the choir, aided and supported by the string quartet. Most of all, I wanted to find ways to compose lush, warm, symphonic-sounding music, while still only scoring for five instruments, in addition to the choir.

– Notes by Ola Gjeilo


Coro Allegro is excited to bring HERE I AM: I AM HERE by Andrea Clearfield to GALA Festival 2024. Our performance here is the third performance of this piece, after our world premiere in Boston in November 2022 and the New York City premiere in March of this year by The Stonewall Chorale. The genesis of HERE I AM: I AM HERE was the desire of three altos and a soprano to commission an SATB work by an American woman composer that would stretch Coro Allegro musically, be accessible to audiences, and be performed by other choruses. We think it hits the mark.

In 2015, Boston-based Mimi Lemay published “A Letter to My Son Jacob on His 5th Birthday” written to her trans son whose sex assigned at birth was female. Coro Allegro’s Artistic Director, David Hodgkins, brought it to our attention, and we were utterly moved – by the depth of her love, by how hard she and Jacob’s father were willing to struggle to understand who Jacob really was and to help him become his authentic self.

David later proposed pairing Mimi’s letter with a letter written by Sam Brinton, a leading advocate for banning the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy and a Coro Allegro alum. Sam’s letter was written from the perspective of their adult self to their 12-year-old self who had survived conversion therapy, which their mother made Sam undergo, thinking it would save her son. So – two stories of mothers’ love for their children facing huge challenges in simply being their LGBTQ+ selves in society – and a story of the power of love of self. Clearly important stories for Coro Allegro as Boston’s LGBTQ+ and allied chorus to tell.

To choose a composer to set the letters, we researched and listened to the music of many women composers, ultimately choosing award-winning composer Dr. Andrea Clearfield. Her contemporary and emotionally accessible music and her beautifully crafted text settings that let the words speak, moved us – a perfect combination for a piece about families struggling to understand and communicate.

In 2019, when this piece was commissioned and we were beginning to see greater and greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, we never imagined the backlash and erosion of rights that would make the message of this piece as urgent as it is in 2024. We’re saddened – and angry – that this is the case. But we’re glad that Mimi’s and Sam’s letters and their advocacy for LGBTQ+ youth and Dr. Clearfield’s setting of the letters have inspired The Letters Project, a multi-year project aiming to support queer youth through affirming messages from the community.

We express heartfelt thanks to David Hodgkins for his many contributions and to Yoshi Campbell, former Coro Allegro Executive Director, The Letters Project co-producer, and Coro soprano, who was instrumental in bringing this piece to fruition and The Letters Project to life. We are most grateful to GALA’s Executive Director, Robin Godfrey, for joining us in underwriting this commission.

Lastly, the commissioners are deeply grateful to Andrea, Mimi, and Sam, who have been so generous with their time, encouragement, and heart, and whose passion for their work continues to inspire us.

– Alison Howe and Virginia Fitzgerald, for the Coro Allegro commissioners of HERE I AM: I AM HERE.


Here I Am: I Am Here was commissioned by Alison Howe, Virginia Fitzgerald, Leigh Smith, Robin Godfrey, and an anonymous donor, for Coro Allegro, David Hodgkins, Artistic Director, and honors Mimi Lemay and Sam Brinton for their passionate advocacy of the rights of LGBTQ+ youth. The cantata is based on true stories – of Mimi and Jacob Lemay and Sam Brinton – and powerful letters of love that promote understanding, healing and connection. The work premiered on Sunday, November 6, 2022 at Old South Church, Boston as part of Coro Allegro’s 31st season, with a second performance on July 12, 2024 at the 11th GALA International Choral Festival at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The composer wishes to thank the Visby International Centre for Composers in Sweden, Yaddo and the Copland House for providing invaluable time and space to create this work. A very special thank you to Mimi Lemay and Sam Brinton for granting permission to use their stories, selected texts, quotes and interviews.

Special Note:

In the preface of her book, What We Will Become: A Mother, A Son, and a Journey of Transformation, Mimi Lemay explains that the name '"Em" is a pseudonym Jacob and she chose to avoid using his birth name. The pronouns used to refer to “Em”—“she” and “her”—represent Jacob's parents’ initial assumptions about his gender before he declared himself, and like the pseudonym, were used with express permission from Jacob.