The Simple Life (2016, arr. 2018)

Texts: Michael Hogan, Nezahualcóyotl, Octavio Paz, Léonard Matton, Sara Teasdale

Orchestration: SATB chorus – pno

Year composed: 2016 (Arr. 2018)

Duration: 17’

Premiere: September 15, 2018. Alfred Newman Hall; Los Angeles, California, United States. USC Choir; Christopher Maldonado, piano; Michael Dawson, conductor.


Program Note

The Simple Life, a set of five songs for choir and piano, reflects on virtues such as justice, generosity, courage, faith, and love. The first song is a setting of Michael Hogan’s “A Tide in the Affairs of Men,” which describes the life of a homeless person in New York City. Hogan uses the ocean as a metaphor for freedom, and juxtaposes it with the imprisoned lifestyle of the homeless. These people are captive to a system that excludes them from society and makes them struggle to obtain food and shelter. “A Tide in the Affairs of Men” encourages us to offer a helping hand to the homeless, so that they can find justice and freedom in their lives.

Nezahualcoyotl was a Mesoamerican poet and warrior who ruled the city of Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico, during the pre-Columbian era. The second song is a setting of his poem “Ca Tlamati Noyollo” (“My Heart Understands It”). Written in the Nahuatl language, originally spoken by the Aztecs and still widely heard throughout Mexico, “Ca Tlamati Noyollo” invites us to cherish the simple joys in life, like contemplating a flower or hearing a beautiful melody.

The third song is a setting of Octavio Paz’s “La Vida Sencilla” (“The Simple Life”). Its central placement, duration (twice as long than any other song in the work), and dramatic arc make it the heart of this composition. “La Vida Sencilla,” whose English translation gives the title to the work, inspires us to live a generous, humble, and passionate life. The poem functions as a modern-day credo, where Paz reveals his fundamental beliefs about life and death. Near the end of the poem, he asserts that our pivotal mission in life is “to know how to break bread and share it.”

“La Croyance” (“My Faith”), set to a poem by Léonard Matton, follows. The song describes how anchoring one’s life in faith brings light in all its splendor. The final song is a setting of Sara Teasdale’s “Barter,” the first poem in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection titled Love Songs. In “Barter,” Teasdale challenges us to spend all we have for loveliness. She elaborates on how music, nature, and peace, are “beautiful and splendid things” the world has to offer. I truly believe that in order to live a simple and meaningful life, we must invest all our time and energy in surrounding ourselves with loveliness.

—Juan Pablo Contreras


May 19, 2019. First Unitarian Universalist Church; San Diego, California, United States. Sacra/Profana; Adam Ferrera, piano; Juan Carlos Acosta, conductor.

September 15, 2018. Alfred Newman Hall; Los Angeles, California, United States. USC Choir; Christopher Maldonado, piano; Michael Dawson, conductor. 


“The Simple Life was well sung by the choir, even with all its many different languages, and the voices were always engaging and in good balance. It was the perfect finish for a well-crafted concert that invited the audience to experience new places and cultures through contemporary music. A long standing ovation followed.”
Paul Muller
Sequenza 21