Emerson Eads’ Passion Cantata, Black Wolf

February 14, 2022
Black Wolf (2021) A Passion Cantata for Narrator, Chorus, and Chamber Orchestra in 4 movements
Music by Emerson Eads, Narrator text by Dave Hunsaker. Additional text for chorus complied by Emerson Eads

1. My Morning
2. G̱ooch
3. That Romeo Wolf
​4. Epiphany

Emerson Eads, Composer
Dave Hunsaker, Librettist
Vox Borealis, Sara Radke Brown – Director
Amalga Chamber Orchestra

Composer’s Notes

Black Wolf – Composer’s Notes
​While initially drafting Black Wolf with Dave Hunsaker’s libretto, I felt it leading me in the direction of a Passion in the tradition of Passions from the Baroque Era, This Passion genre began as a telling of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, and traditionally includes an evangelist who acts as the narrator of the story. The story of Romeo is a tragic one with many parallels to the passion story as we’ve come to know it. There is beauty and grace that briefly fills our sublime world, and then that form that reminds us of something greater, is killed and we search for meaning, for reminders, for reminiscences of that beauty that was torn from us.  

In the libretto there are reflective moments between the narrative elements that reminded me of the chorale portions of the passions of Bach. So as I lived with these words, it took on the form of a passion, only, the narrator of the story would not sing the narration, instead it would be spoken. The chorus, instead of delivering reflective texts like a homily in chorales interspersed between arias and recitatives, acts as the wind, the aurora, or a stream– very nearly always singing  meaningless phonemes. 

A few exception are when the choir sings Romeo’s name, when they sing a Latin prayer Scapulis Suis (a latin setting of a Psalm of David where the psalmist anthropomorphizes the protection of the deity like a winged creature: He shall cover you with his wings, and you shall be safe under his feathers). I feel the sacred aspect of this story in nature itself, and I felt like this well-known liturgical text expressed the protection we all seek, and what we hope for all those we love. The final exception comes after the death of Romeo, a soloist sings text from a song I wrote years ago whose text is from an eight-year-old describing what love is: When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth. Dave kindly let me interpolate this. 

The final movement is a set of variations on a theme from a Danish chant. While this is essentially a non-sacred work, there are many nods to the sacred choral tradition; after all, one can barely go into nature without feeling the sublime within grasp. So Black Wolf is a Passion story told by a narrator, celebrated and mourned by nature- the choir and orchestra. I’m so grateful to Todd for commissioning it, and for Dave’s beautiful text that inspired this music.
​-Emerson Eads

Librettist’s Notes

​I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on this wonderful project about a most remarkable and mysterious creature and phenomenon. When asked to write something, I wrote A LOT, way to much to set to music, so the composer and conductor were kind enough to tell me I could read it along with the wonderful music. Thanks Emerson, thanks Todd, I am humbled and grateful.

I am one of the dogless people who were still fortunate enough to see the black wolf out on the ice. It is an experience I will remember long after I have forgotten my own name. Though dogless myself, I had the good fortune to be friends with some of the key people in this story: Nick and Sherry Jans, John Hyde, Joel Bennett, Luisa Stoughton. And whatever dedication I can make, I make it in their names.
​-Dave Hunsaker