We Look to the Stars

We Look to the Stars – Cantata

for SATB chorus, percussion (3 players), harp and vocal soloists. (2 sopranos, 1 mezzo-soprano, 1 alto, 1 tenor). Duration 60 mins, may be excerpted as needed.

Drawing on myths and writing from different cultures, this cantata is a musical celebration of the wonders of the night sky. Across history, culture, time and space—every division and divide among us—we all look at the same stars. Bringing together vocal soloists with SATB chorus and a small group of instrumentalists, We Look to the Stars embraces our universal, human connection with a journey through the night sky in song.

Commissioned by Los Angeles Opera

Excerpts from the premiere performance with optional staging. Performed by students, alumni and faculty from PCC and Cal Tech with additional soloists from L.A. Opera. (See bottom of page for full credits.)

“For millennia, the nighttime sky has been a tablet upon which we’ve inscribed our histories. It contains a richness that transcends those visible points of light, with multiple narratives layered atop the same glittering framework.”

Nadia Drake

For much of human existence, the night sky was such a great mystery that perhaps it’s natural our stories about the stars are as much stories about us as people. We have looked at the stars and seen ways to navigate through sea and over land; we have seen hopes, dreams and inspiration; we have seen love found and love lost; grief and fear; life and death.

It is fascinating how much similarity there is in stories from all around the globe, centuries apart. Myths that began in one place ended up thousands of miles distant, told with different names in different countries; poetic imagery about the stars in one place has hundreds of analogues from other places and other languages. While the words in which we have described our relationship to the stars are as diverse as the people they came from, the stories themselves have overlapping themes, ideas and images. We Look to the Stars brings together some of these myths, poems and excerpts of prose to celebrate not only the night sky, but also with it the things that unite us in the human experience.

Music by Juhi Bansal; Texts adapted by the composer from…

  • Kabir (15th Century, Indian)
  • Onakatomi no Sukechika and Nyogo Kishi Joō (10th Century, Japanese)
  • Abu Bakr Al-Turtushi (11th Century, Andalusian, originally translated in Spain)
  • Ibn Hamdis (11th Century, Sicilian Arab)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (20th Century, American)
  • Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (13th Century, Persian)
  • Sara Teasdale (20th Century, American)
  • Eihei Dōgen Kigen (13th Century, Japanese)
  • Sarah Williams (19th Century, English)

Credits: Video excerpts above are from the premiere 2/13/2020 at Huntington Gardens, featuring singers from Pasadena City College and Cal Tech Glee Club. Featured soloists are: vocal – Shabnam Kalbasi, Ashley Faatoalia, Kimberly Mendez-Mcleish, Kathryn Schuman, Alina Roitstein; harp – Alison Bjorkedal; percussion – Jesus Flores, Alex Hamilton, Grant Hilburn. Conducted by Rodger Guerrero, directed and staged by Maria Fortuna-Dean with assistance from Jasper Jimenez and Michelle Ramirez. Additional student vocal soloists include Linda Montiel, Mary Palmer, Vincent Demars, Marleigh Rose Gillespie, Kalen Hoang, Mattia Venni, Monica Montoya, Michael Samudio, Julissa Talamante, Jenny Ahn, Alice Brutskaya-Stempkovskaya, Kaylie Minick.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Babcock, LA Opera.