How do you write a song? Eric Whitacre talks us through his process

14 February 2018, 11:33

The hugely popular American composer has created a musical setting of e e cummings’ poem ‘I Carry Your Heart’ – all inspired by one simple chord. Here’s how he did it.

e e cummings’ poem is stunning in its simplicity, so Eric wanted to mimic that in his arrangement for the Eric Whitacre Singers. 

Find a way in

This is no easy feat, in this case. More than five years ago, the composer was asked to create a choral arrangement of ‘I Carry Your Heart’ for his best friends’ wedding – but he couldn’t find the right inspiration. Then five years later, he found it by playing around on the piano. 

As he explains in the video above, the musical idea – or motif – sees the sopranos and tenors staying stationary on a ‘G’, while the basses and altos move upwards.

“There’s this lovely feeling that it’s static and moving at the same time, it’s vibrating, humming,” he says.

Build on your idea

As Eric explains, there’s a special relationship between the static soprano line and the alto line, which moves up to almost meet the higher line. There’s a beautiful dissonance created in the process.

“I love the idea that the ‘G’ is constant, and that’s the love motive,” Eric explains. “Then, coming underneath it is the other being, trying to enter a heart or trying to connect. 

“It really spoke to me about two people trying to come together, then finding each other and clicking.”

Expand your idea into a whole work

In this piece, that central idea became the core of the whole work. For the duration of the piece, the soprano and alto lines never touch. Then right at the very end, the alto line comes up to reach a ‘G’ and join the sopranos, resolving the chord.

“It’s everything that I always imagined love could be,” says Eric.

Here’s Eric’s arrangement:

And here’s a link to read the original poem

Buy and listen to Eric Whitacre’s version of ‘I Carry Your Heart’ here.