In Refuge and Strength, I chose to focus on the search for strength and comfort amidst the difficulties of suffering as described in Psalm 46, which uses metaphors of calm and tumult as depicted in nature to represent the calm refuge of comfort and solace and the tumult of difficulty and adversity.
To describe the calm refuge of comfort and solace, I began the piece with the lower voices singing “refuge and strength” as a repeated motive, with a rising and falling melodic line and dynamic shape to signify the gentle movement of waves, like a barcarolle or boat song, perhaps depicting a boat calmly floating on the water below an orange sunset.
To depict the tumult of difficulty and adversity, I used faster tempi and increased rhythmic motion. In one passage I set the voices in canon to represent echo-like sounds of falling rocks as “mountains topple into the depths”; in another I used quickly rising and falling dynamics on “waters rage and foam,” and in a third I used running eighth notes on the words “tremble at its tumult.”
After the section of tumultuous music, the tempo slows and there is a musical depiction of wonder during the text “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” which moves to “the holy habitation of the most high” with tension building as voices rise ever higher in register, as if reaching out for God’s help during periods of suffering. For the text “God shall help her at the break of day,” I used a repeating figure above running arpeggiations in the piano to represent a glorious sunrise at daybreak, signifying strength as the sun rises every day no matter what kind of chaos occurs.
The piece eventually returns to the calm barcarolle section that opened the work, with the melodic line originally used for “the God of Jacob is our stronghold” now in a descant line, superimposed on the opening “refuge and strength” motive to represent the presence of God’s help during times of suffering.