In Ave Maris Stella, I sought to evoke the shining light of the star of Mary glimmering over the sea by musically expressing the colors I associate with the text. I perceive these colors because I have synesthesia—the neurological connection between different senses, particularly hearing and sight. The work’s central image is the glow of a star shimmering above the waves of the sea. The sopranos begin the work with the original eighth-century Gregorian chant, on which the subsequent music is largely based. After the first verse of the chant is introduced, the lower voices begin in B minor, which I hear as the color blue. This B minor/blue association is used to convey the deep color of the ocean and is also associated with the Virgin Mary herself as the color of Heaven, representing her role as Queen of Heaven and earth. The singers begin on a unison B-natural and branch out into clustered chords based on the first three notes of the chant, which then rise and fall representing the gentle undulation of the waves of the sea. Above them, a floating descant based on a variation of the chant melody evokes the shimmering “Star of the Sea.”
At the work’s climax on the text “Mutans Evae nomen” (“Reversing the name of Eve”), this name reversal begins with the lower voices stacking thirds on top of one another, building in intensity as "Evae" is sung in octaves by the outer voices, beginning on an E-natural, a bright orange-red. The ensuing dramatic key change from D Major to D-Flat Major on the word "Ave," represents the transformation from “Eva” to “Ave.” The accompanying text, "Felix caeli porta," or "portal to heaven" (which I hear as a warmer, golden color) conveys the serene and glorious beauty of heaven.
The scene of the shimmering star returns with the descant soaring again above the wave-like motives in the lower voices. The voices wind down as they sing “Funda nos in pace” or “Establish us in peace,” as “pace” (“peace”) is repeated three times, with voices stacking upon each other from the lowest voice to the highest as one giant wave for each repetition. After the final “pace” is sung—represented musically as a soft pink glow—the descant continues to ascend melodically as the voices below it slowly shift upward in sustained harmonies. The piano finishes with a final flourish in its highest register, completing the ascension to the blissful gate of heaven.