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LYRIC: Cello Songs

When composer Jake Runestad was commissioned to write a work for choir and cello, he knew he wanted to give the cello a strong voice in a piece that celebrated its fullest range of moods.

Todd created a new four-movement text whose central image is a fallen tree, lying in the arms of a living one:


When a dead tree


in a living tree’s

arms lies

balefully bowing

in the glade,


seems colder,

the earth a little


the living

more forgiving,

and loving

well made. ...

Intended as love songs — and written sparingly so as to allow the cello plenty of interpretive space — "Cello Songs" uses the four seasons as a structure to examine how the cello's richness and complexity might mean very different things to us at different times in our lives.

It’s deep, rich and lush, with moving, surging energy

and it ends with a delightful, playful surprise.

— David Hunt

The unique last movement, "Spring," consists of just two lines of text, graphically scattered across the page in a kind of visual puzzle representing a soft rainfall — a puzzle Runestad embraced in a composition that ends in a jazzy patter of technical playfulness and joyful release that's as much fun to hear as it is to sing and play.

"Cello Songs" was commissioned for the St. Charles Singers by Doug Bella and David Hunt in memory of mother Doris J. Hunt. It premiered in Wheaton, Illinois, October 2-3, 2021, featuring cellist Cameron Grimes. It marked Todd's eighth collaboration with Jake.

You can listen here to the St. Charles Singers performance, or see it preceded by a 2021 conversation between Todd, Jake Runestad, and David Hunt, here. "Cello Songs" is available here for purchase and performance.

One of the joys of a healthy collaborative relationship — realized only over much time and effort — is the extent to which each artist can urge the other into new creative challenges. Jake and I are constantly pushing back against one another in a process I've come to think of as "gainful aggravation." Like good actors who keep opening scene possibilities to one another, we've come to crave the hard-won surprises that result.

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