“Yes, I am your angel” (Gabriel Jackson)
Oxford University Press
Submitted by Nate Zullinger
R&R Chair for College and University Choirs
UK-based composer Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962) wrote this piece at the request of The Crossing and their conductor Donald Nally. It was part of a larger commission known as “The Jeff Quartets” in honor of Jeffrey Dinsmore, a co-founder of the ensemble. Known for his ability to synthesize classical structures and styles with harmonies and rhythms from diverse genres, Jackson has fulfilled many prominent choral commissions in the last two decades. Jackson’s substantial catalogue includes chamber music, instrumental solos, and several large-scale choral-orchestral works. Kārlis Vērdiņš (b. 1979), a Latvian poet and literary critic, regularly contributes texts for vocal music. Ieva Lešinska, a noted writer and translator, prepared the English text. Vērdiņš describes this as a response to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “A Supermarket in California,” in which the question is posed, “Are you my angel?” Like Ginsberg’s original poem, it takes place late at night in a grocery store.
“Yes, I am your angel” can be easily divided into six short sections of about twenty measures each. The first describes the monotony of a grocery clerk, surrounded by discounted fruit and meat department specials offered “by installment.” After a brief description of the employee’s attractiveness and appeal, a wheezing, seductive poet-customer appears. Taking a darker turn, the third section hints at the world of casual encounters and seedier possibilities beyond the sterile common ground of the market. Perhaps this offers some foreshadowing of unspoken activities in the subsequent section, when the employee hurries home at the end of the shift. Though there are hints, it is never confirmed if the employee will be returning alone to his “half-empty” apartment. In part five, the employee imagines that a wealthier customer in the checkout line may buy everything – including the supermarket and the employee, too. In perhaps the most revealing passage of the entire poem, the employee’s impatience surfaces, hinting that his attentions might be easily transferred elsewhere. This fantasy is shattered in the brief final section as the original poet-customer becomes rowdy in his drunken state. The employee dismisses him briskly with the perfect retort, “don’t fret, write a poem.”
This piece is ideal for a number of educational concepts, including the study of mixed meter with a steady eighth note; proper word stress and attention to detail in a non-traditional choral text; negotiating major and minor seconds between two parts; appreciating the significance of rhythmic and harmonic motives (particularly the “angel” chord); and finally, achieving an effective delivery of a clear, homophonic text-setting. It also offers an opportunity to engage with students’ interest in literature and LGBTQ social history. Though written for a professional choir, it is well within the ability range of many university ensembles. Notably, while there are rhythmic and harmonic challenges, voice ranges are limited, allowing for fluidity between parts if needed.