Q. How many copies of Sing Me to Heaven have been sold over the 25 years since its initial publication?
A. An exact number is difficult to arrive at because sales records for some of the early years were destroyed in the tragic fire of the Great Library of Alexandria and/or in flooding caused by Hurricane Zebulon. If we had realized that the piece would become so popular we would have made sure to back up our files off site. (You should do so with your files: don’t make the mistake we did!) Our best estimate is that around a half million copies are out there somewhere in choir folders and file cabinets and stacks of music on pianos around the world.
Q. Why did you wait so long before making a vocal solo version available?
A. I am, of course, intimately involved with, and familiar with, the original SATB version. I cannot tell you how many performances I have heard, how many recordings I have received, how many times I have answered questions about the piece. The sound that’s in my ear is hard to avoid and it’s therefore very difficult for me to imagine the essence of the piece altered from the rich, smooth textures of an unaccompanied choral sound to a single, skinny voice, accompanied by double-fistfuls of chords banged out on a jangling, percussive piano. How could that possibly work?
It took a long time for me to open my mind’s ear to the other possibilities inherent in that “essence of the piece” that I mentioned above, but in the event I find that the new vocal solo version is quite effective and persuasively musical. It just took me a while to get there—about 25 years!
Q. Where did the text come from?
A. The director of the choir that commissioned the piece said that they were looking for something that “spoke to the way that we, as singers, feel about music in our lives.” I didn’t know of a poem that addressed that topic and after some time spent looking, I began to despair of finding anything already existing that was so specific. While whining about this to my wife, Jane Griner, she got a thoughtful look on her face and asked if I would mind her giving it a shot. Though I knew of her skills as a writer, I thought of her mostly as an essayist, not a poet but I was becoming desperate so I urged her to start immediately. When I saw what she delivered I knew that I had been given something special.
Q. Where did the music come from?
A. That would be telling.