I think I found the poem I needed. Blessed be the internet! This translation is floating around online – not sure what the deal is with copyright.

If I’m going for some chant based writing this might be too short; but having found this poem I now need to allow myself to let it be my structural guide overriding any rationalizations of what the right thing to do is. If I do something (like I was planning) in the form of a modern chant, for lack of a better phrase, that I can find in the two pieces I”m doing in New Haven Oratorio Choir right now – Britten Festival Te Deum or Howells Te Deum – the text will be gobbled up incredibly too fast. So I need to express some mysticism and I’ve been thinking that chant is the way to do it. But chant eats words so fast I think I have to do something else.

Here’s the text:

Only Breath – Rumi

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

****

Now look at the comparative size of Te Deum:

We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim : continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty : of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world : doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God : in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints : in glory everlasting.

[added later, mainly from Psalm verses:]
O Lord, save thy people : and bless thine heritage.
Govern them : and lift them up for ever.
Day by day : we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name : ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord : to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us : have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.

****

These texts imply very different music skeletons. This Rumi poem is way to short to fit into a skeleton of a Te Deum in any traditional sense.

I think I might try something where I repeat lines once, like an echo. That will give this piece some time and still let me move through lines organically – chantlike or speechlike in rhythm where appropriate. (Maybe – the structure of the poem may not be expressible this way and if I go with it – the text is the boss and can overrule anything I’ve planned) I can’t chant this with a lot of repetition to make the poem artificially long. Many repeats of the text seems like it would fight the nature of chant. A lot. Chant means business – most of the time it goes through lots of words fast and repeating seems artificial. Very artificial.

There are so many ways this could go. I have ten ideas floating in my head fighting with each other already. I can make one decision though – I’ll add an organ. That will stretch me right there out of a cappella which is what I’ve been doing for a while.

What happens next is I come up with whatever the most obvious / natural but tasty idea for the beginning is and then let the piece unfold itself. When looking for good seeds I’ll try to stay away from cluster heavy ideas. I don’t want to write another Be Still. And I have one other seed idea that I can try – this is pretty open ended so I think it might work without choking ing me. I’m not going to write major/minor. I’m going to write in E phrygian, that’s the ancient mode (predates modern scales in its way) that you get when you play E-E on white keys only. It’s got a mystical mood and if I get to basses low E is a safe low note.