THE BEST OF Both Worlds

for viola and piano

The title The Best of Both Worlds came to me while I was thinking about the genesis of the opening motive—a falling tritone followed by a rising perfect fifth—which figures prominently in the piece. I was minding my own business at the dining room table when I happened to hear a sequence of four notes plucked on my children’s out-of-tune ukulele that compelled me to write them down. I thought about the way that my home life as a wife and mother interacts with my work life as a composer and professor. Some days, I think I have the best of both worlds. Some days, I think I have the best of neither of those worlds, as I frantically run from one thing to the next, wondering if I do any of it well. Many people have similar different worlds that they inhabit, and there are many pairs of worlds in this piece. The slow, lyrical first section clashes with the bluesy, aggressive nature of the second section. The scales used share similar collections of notes, but change color when the emphasized tonic shifts. These conflicts play out in different ways as the piece progresses, reaching a cautious resolution by the end. It was a pleasure for me to write this piece for the two instruments whose worlds I inhabited during my musical training. Many thanks go to the Ohio Music Teachers Association, who commissioned the piece for their 2017 conference, to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the place where I could escape from one world into another to complete the work, and to Suzanne Newcomb and Steve Wedell, who gave the premiere performance.

Ellis Island

for tenor voice, clarinet, cello, and piano

My great-grandfather Giacobbe Catini (later, Jacob Catino) came to America through Ellis Island on September 9, 1913, at the age of 18. A few years ago, I found the ship’s manifest that bore his name, along with his classification of “Italian (South)”. According to, he was one of 12 million people who entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, and I am one of nearly half of all Americans who can trace my family history to at least one person who passed through Ellis Island. We are a nation of immigrants. For me, the little girl in this song represents the millions of people who passed through Ellis Island and the millions more that are hoping for safe passage today. I hope that my eldest son, who was born exactly 98 years to the day after his great-great-grandfather arrived in this country, will be part of a generation that shows the same compassion to those searching for a better life as does the immigration officer whose words have been brought to life through Daniel’s voice.

for lyric baritone, violin, cello, and piano 

The text of this song is simple: “I am far, far from home, and I cannot return. Is it safe here?” The words weave in and out of four languages (English, Spanish, Indonesian, and Arabic) to communicate the shared plight of refugees across the globe. Musically, the main melody strives to find “home,” which proves elusive.