frank stemper

Last Words (2010)
for unaccompanied six part choir (5.5 mins.)



This is an interesting story.  From early 2007 until mid-2009 I composed eleven new compositions – about 117 minutes of music.  This included two orchestral works, five solos, and the rest for various sized chamber ensembles.  About half of these compositions were commissioned with deadlines.  The others were self-initiated pieces that interrupted the paid activity, because they “just had to be written.”  Musically, I was on fire.

Then I decided to take a little break.  The break lasted two years.  This was the first time in over 30 years that I had let more then six months pass without completing a piece.  Normally, even going a couple of weeks without composing would have me ranting to myself that I was either lazy and worthless, or that my musical initiative had finally dried up. But I didn’t seem to be concerned about this exile from writing music.  I was very relaxed, concerning myself with the normal, day-to-day responsibilities in my life, except for an intermittent gnawing in my gut that I probably should get back to work.  It seemed as if I had retired from composing.

Then, exactly one year into this hiatus, I mysteriously wrote a short acapella choir piece.  I had thought when I composed Last Words, that its ethereal sound was inspired by MLK’s final “Mountaintop” speech given in Memphis, which eluded to his assassination the very next day.  The chilling legacy of MLK’s prediction had haunted me since the late sixties, and, in this piece’s opening statement, quoted from his speech, Dr. King, seems to beacon us from somewhere up “above.”  The piece goes on to use a mosaic of quotes from his speech, including his own quoting of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  My thought was that MLK’s initiatives continue to teach, guide and mend us as a Nation, long after his death.

And so simultaneously I finally realized this project and returned to composing – or so I thought, for my exile continued, and I ended up not completing a major piece for almost another year.  What had happened to bring this strange circumstance to my professional/artistic life?  Was it a mid-career vacation?  The “vacation” is finally over, and I’m now back to composing.


There was one other event that occurred, which has something to do with this story:  In April 2009, while I was composing the eleventh piece at the end of that very productive period, my mother died.  She was my mother, a great friend and I loved her. I still do, and how can a guy compose if his mother’s dead.  After completing that eleventh piece, I must have gone into mourning for two years, stopping only briefly to let Dr. King remind me that although someone dies, they are still there to comfort and influence us long after they are physically gone.

Last Updated: November 26, 2010

  • Last Words6:08