First Advisor

Bryan Johanson

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Music and University Honors




Cantatas, Secular -- Scores, James Laughlin (1914-1997) -- Musical settings, James Laughlin (1914-1997) -- Poetry




"The Avalanche" by James Laughlin was originally written as two poems, "The Avalanche" and "The Shape of Love," then published as one in 1945. It unfolds the turmoil one faces with a new love and a looming past. I set the poem to music in four movements with an instrumental prelude for mezzo-soprano, flute, viola, and harp, thus making my piece a cantata, which is typically defined as a work for one or more voices and orchestral accompaniment in multiple movements that divide a single text. Although seemingly counterintuitive, the decision to have the text delivered by a mezzo-soprano was intentionally unfaithful to the source of the poem. In contradiction with common practice in the Western classical music tradition, my intent was to displace the poem from its heterosexual origin. Prominent examples of such gender displacement include folk pop artist Marissa Nadler’s adaptation of the first three stanzas of Poe’s "Annabel Lee," composer Judith Weir’s setting of Keats’s "I Had a Dove," part of her song cycle, The Voice of Desire, and many of the folk song arrangements of Benjamin Britten, who often allowed for gender transgressive treatments of the text by leaving otherwise gendered voice parts unspecified.

The cantata, The Avalanche, was recorded on June 15, 2015, in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall chamber music hall by Michelle Fernandez (mezzo- soprano), Selina Kent (flute), Julia McGarrety (viola), and Lily Breshears (harp) with sound engineer James Pearson.


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Note: The author received Bachelor of Science in University Honors degrees in both Music and Mathematics.

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