Alumna's Poetry Set to Music by Local Composer

Wednesday 18, 2018

Northern Michigan University alumna and poet Kathleen M. Heideman ('94 MA) has contributed text for an original choral cantata, “The Night Psalms.” The newly commissioned work by local composer Griffin Candey will premiere as part of the Marquette Choral Society concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 29, in Reynolds Recital Hall.

Heideman’s poems, "The Nights Psalms" and "We Should Leave Some of This,” are part of the cantata. When composing, Candey selected those two poems from Heideman’s recent book “Psalms of the Early Anthropocene.” Candey used “Night Psalms” as the title and the controlling image of the cantata. Using poetic narratives, the cantata connects with the local landscape and environmental concerns.

“These poems paint a picture of a wounded yet resilient landscape: the Yellow Dog Plains of northern Marquette County,” said Heideman. “Collectively, the poems in ‘Psalms of the Early Anthropocene’ reveal a remote, quiet and wild place, drawn from direct observation and the experience of being there over long periods of time. The term ‘Anthropocene’ refers to a new geological era and tensions between the landscape’s history, as new land use, such as sulfide mining, come into the Yellow Dog Plains.

“My late father-in-law built a beautiful cabin and preserved wetlands on the Yellow Dog Plains. So, this is an emotional story: here is this personal feeling of gratitude and connection with the landscape but also a larger feeling of grief and frustration, shared by everyone who loves and cares for the environment. Poetry talks about these things from an angle, of course, not directly.”

This is the first time Heideman’s poetry has been set to music.

“Hearing my poetry sung gives me goosebumps. Hearing your own words in four-part harmony is a bit surreal. It is a huge honor. I grew up in a very musical family, but I could never have imagined that my poetry would be transformed into a piece of classical music.”

“We Should Leave Some of This” describes an experience Heideman had on the Yellow Dog Plains while cutting firewood:

“When I got to the end of the branch, the ragged end that tore free of the tree, I took one more cut — and up boiled black shreds which at first I mistook for rotten pulp. They were ground wasps, a nest of them in the void of the rotten crotch of birch.”

Heideman is an author, artist and environmental activist. She is a fellow of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists & Writers Program. During the past decade, she completed a dozen artist residencies with experimental research stations, watersheds, forests, private foundations and the National Park Service, including Apostle Islands, Voyageurs, Isle Royale and Badlands. Heideman studied poetry at NMU. Her advice to current students is to connect with the Upper Peninsula area.

“Get outside, fall in love with Lake Superior and the Huron Mountains, become a keen observer. You are able to be very focused on your work in the U.P. – you don’t have a million distractions that you would have in a city. Also, my advice for aspiring poets and writers is to assign yourself research projects that are completely separate from what teachers want. Give yourself your own meaningful assignments.”

Other texts included in the cantata are from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” and “Mantras” by Anastasia Pennington-Flax. “The Night Psalms” will premiere alongside Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” at the Choral Society performance.

Tickets for the performance are $10 for adults and $6 for students and children. They are available online at and at NMU’s Berry Events Center. They will also be available at the door.

Heideman’s poems are also included in a show at Peter White Public Library in honor of National Poetry Month. Visit a virtual gallery, with audio versions of some of her poems, at

Jill Vermeulen
Student Writer

Heideman (by Christine Saari)