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(Who learns my lesson complete?) - - tp, 2pc, hp - Sop, Bari, 2 Choirs - Strings
Soprano, Baritone, 2 Choirs, Orchestra
duration 15:00  © 2016 Faber Music

sample performed by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and the Sydney Youth Orchestra
sample performed by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and the Sydney Youth Orchestra
sample performed by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and the Sydney Youth Orchestra
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Program Note:

Wonders was commissioned by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs as a concert companion for Vaughan Williams’ renowned Sea Symphony, and so uses similar forces with large choir and two soloists. Like that work it also features text by Walt Whitman, being a setting of his 1855 poem, Who learns my lesson complete?, which was renamed Wonders in the 1892 edition of Leaves of Grass. (This substantial collection of poetry also supplied the words for Vaughan Williams' symphony).

Wonders is a short poem in twenty-six lines of free verse. I was drawn to it for its manifest humanism, its tangible though irreligious spirituality and its powerful expression of communal inclusivity. Although the text functions largely as a soliloquy, its message is meant equally for all, and so in my setting is passed between the soloists and the collective consciousness of the two choirs - large and small. The soloists speak respectively for the male and female principle of the original voice, while the choirs echo the social sentiment of acceptance.

It is hard to not get swept up in the boundless beauty that the poet finds in the simple things that surround us every day: from one’s eyesight, friendship and conversation up to the miracles of childbirth and the unknowable extent of time and the universe. In this concise statement the poet has encapsulated a comprehensive holistic view of humankind and the way we should live together. It is wonderful.

Carl Vine, June 2016

Wonders was first performed by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs with Penelope Miller, Christopher Hillier and the Sydney Youth Orchestra conducted by Brett Weymark on the 22nd of September 2016 at the Sydney Opera House.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
Who learns my lesson complete? (1855)

Who learns my lesson complete?

Boss, journeyman, apprentice - churchman and atheist,

The stupid and the wise thinker - parents and offspring - merchant, clerk, porter, and customer,

Editor, author, artist; and schoolboy - Draw nigh and commence;

It is no lesson - it lets down the bars to a good lesson,

And that to another, and every one to another still.

The great laws take and effuse without argument;

I am of the same style, for I am their friend,

I love them quits and quits - I do not halt and make salaams.

I lie abstracted, and hear beautiful tales of things, and the reasons of things;
They are so beautiful I nudge myself to listen.

I cannot say to any person what I hear - I cannot say it to myself - it is very wonderful.

It is no small matter, this round and delicious globe, moving so exactly in its orbit for ever and ever, without one jolt, or the untruth of a single second;

I do not think it was made in six days, nor in ten thousand years, nor ten billions of years, Nor plann'd and built one thing after another, as an architect plans and builds a house.

I do not think seventy years is the time of a man or woman,

Nor that seventy millions of years is the time of a man or woman,

Nor that years will ever stop the existence of me, or any one else.

Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every one is immortal;
I know it is wonderful - but my eyesight is equally wonderful, and how I was conceived in my mother's womb is equally wonderful;

And pass'd from a babe, in the creeping trance of a couple of summers and winters, to articulate and walk - All this is equally wonderful.

And that my Soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other without ever seeing each other, [and never perhaps to see each other,] is every bit as wonderful.

And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful;

And that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to be true, is just as wonderful.

And that the moon spins round the earth, and on with the earth, is equally wonderful;

And that they balance themselves with the sun and stars is equally wonderful.

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