A series of haunting existential questions posed as if by a pack of wolves forms the text of "How'll You Know," Todd's 10th collaboration with composer Jake Runestad, who set it for a cappella SATB choir.
Jake brought the concept of howling wolves to Todd. Rather than write an attempted explication of the sound, or
anthropomorphize it, or comment upon it, Todd chose to imagine it as an inquiry, a sounding in the dark, a plumbing of depths, that invites listener interpretation, thereby retaining its mystery.
Truly haunting! — Rick Bjella, Artistic Director,
San Antonio Chamber Choir
The text's interrogatives are infused with o and oo vowels and diphthongs designed to give the choir a unique sonic palette worthy of wolves' most eerie and inscrutable vocalizations. Jake's setting enacts a subtle passage of leadership from male to female voices, inviting questions about what humans can learn from the gender-roles and socializations exhibited by other species. The piece ends with choristers vocalizing their wilder side, in what animal behaviorists call a "chorus howl."
Who'll you follow through the snow?
How'll you know where you need to go?
Are our hours ours, ours alone?
How are you more than the store of your bones?
This project follows on the heels of Todd's epic, Emmy-winning ninth collaboration with Jake Runestad, Earth Symphony, and furthers Todd's ongoing interest in addressing climate chaos and our fragile ecosystems.
"How'll You Know" runs roughly 8 minutes, and concludes in a loose cacophony of howls. It was commissioned and premiered on a full moon by San Antonio Chamber Choir, May 6-7, 2023, to standing ovations.
The score is available from JR Music here.
Jake and I had been discussing this project for several days by the time I found myself driving California's wide, otherworldly San Joaquin Valley, the Sierra Nevadas in the distance, where the words "how'll you know where you need to go" and "are our hours ours, ours alone?" occurred to me. As a nomad, I felt it made sense to frame wolves' howls as questions, rather than statements. They have that quality. They seem to inquire of the wind and sky. What do they ask? What would we ask?