The Digital Wonder Watch (1999)
Text: May Swenson
Commissioned by the MMEA and the ACDA of Minnesota
Premiere—1999, by the Minnesota All-State Mixed Chorus, Kathy Saltzman Romey, conductor, Linda Berger, piano, St. Peter, MN.
Published by ECS. Distributed by Canticle.
The Digital Wonder Watch was commissioned by the Minnesota Music Educators Association and the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota for the 1999 All-State Mixed Chorus. It was premiered by that ensemble conducted by Kathy Salzman Romey with Linda Berger, piano.
“Digital Wonder” is a comic poem, but it is not merely comic. It struck me as a good subject for students sing and think about, for it’s not just about a watch, but about the limits of technology and our fascination with it. But however accurately our gadgets take the length and width of our lives, the big questions remain. The human heart is ever mysterious.
The piece begins with a gasp, as if one is opening a surprise gift. The poem’s short lines, which suggest a watchband, also lend breathlessness to the diction. The opening theme in measures 9-20 gives this structure direction as stresses gradually compress time from three bars, to two, to a bar and a half, then to single bars and single beats. As the wonders of the watch are revealed, the perspective widens, as does the hyperbole.
Poet, playwright and translator May Swenson (1913-1989) was born the eldest of ten children in Logan, Utah, and attended Utah State University, graduating in 1934. Swenson’s many honors include the Bollingen Prize, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships. Her poems are rhythmic, playful and witty, frequently choosing as subjects love, human nature, the natural world, geography, invention—and occasionally baseball. She delights in writing for children, and for the child in the adult. Her legacy at Utah State University includes the May Swenson Project and a poetry award in her name. “The Digital Wonder Watch” appears in Swenson’s last volume of poems, In Other Words, published by Knopf.
For the conductor: measures 77-79 offer an opportunity to contrast the choral tone qualities of “hot” and “cold.” In m. 87, the [d] of old may be omitted in the upper voices. Measures 139-147 should whirl chaotically, as though the watch has gone haywire.
When I look at the time,
it tells me the date,
the speed of my pulse,
my height, my weight. . . .
© The Literary Estate of May Swenson