Yellow Twig of Willow

  • Composer: Stephen Smith 
  • Publisher: contact the composer through the Elektra office at manager[at]
  • Canadian Work: Yes
  • Duration: 2:54
  • Sample Track:

Program Notes:

This piece is a setting of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Counting-Out Rhyme,” a short poem which whimsically describes the leaves, bark, etc. of various species of trees, in language replete with internal rhyme, alliteration, and other kinds of wordplay. The poem’s form and lilting rhythms emulate a children’s “elimination game” (and the rhymes often associated with them, such as “Eeny, meeny, mynie, moe”). The element of unpredictability, which makes such games humorous and fun, is present in the musical setting as well: both in the 3/4 – 6/8 ambiguity of its metre, and in the varying lengths of the piano interpolations that punctuate the vocal phrases.

Conductor Notes:

SSA and piano. Stephen wrote this piece in 2013 for the ACDA Women’s Commissioning Consortium. Its playful subject matter and quirky phrasing all work together to great effect. The tempo needs to be brisk but not frantic. Your pianist needs to be amazing, and excellent diction will ensure the audience catches the humour of the unusual poem. The tessitura is at times low over a very busy piano part, but we worked on brightening the sound and relying on the higher voices to project the words. A challenging but refreshingly playful new work. The metres are intentionally ambiguous as they move between 6/8 and 3/4. At first, I tried to conduct them differently, but at the tempo indicated, it was easier to stay in 6/8 except for the longer passages of 3/4.


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Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch, and yellow
Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.