"Hope" is the thing
with feathers 

By Harrison J. Collins


For Trumpet Nonet





“Hope” is the thing with feathers is inspired by Emily Dickinson’s brief and beautiful poem of the same name. First, it is worth noting that I know about this poem because of John Green and Hank Green, known online as the Vlogbrothers. I have watched their videos since I was a young teen, and they have had an immeasurably deep and positive impact on the way I learned and viewed my world and even spoke while I was growing up (I am undoubtedly a “nerdfighter”, as the members of their fanbase are called). During 2020, after having not engaged with their work in few years, I began listening to their podcast, “Dear Hank and John”. Aside from being a fantastic podcast all around, I loved it because I was reconnecting with two of my online heroes, and it was not long before I heard John Green say a phrase I ever-so-vaguely recalled from my youth: “hope is the thing with feathers”. I hadn't thought about it much when I was a kid, but hearing it again so many years later lit a fire of curiosity in me, so I did my research and very quickly learned of its source. I am enchanted with the idea of hope, so I was

immediately enthralled with this poem upon discovering it. I couldn’t help myself - I simply  had to write a piece inspired by it.

Dickinson’s poem describes the idea of hope as a singing bird; one that “never stops - at all”, and that “never [asks] a crumb - of me”. The work is structured around exploration of moods related to phrases in the poem. It opens with “the tune without the words”, the primary melody of the work. The slow tempo and reflective mood of this idea eventually give way to an energetic, fidgety melody representing “the thing with feathers”. This eventually develops into a darker, more intense idea that is inspired by “the chillest lands and strangest seas” of the poem. The work eventually comes back to where it started, reflecting Dickinson’s idea that hope always sings, “and never stops - at all” - and this is the case for the work as well, as it ends with a celebratory shout of “the tune without the words” and “the thing with feathers” together. Additionally, because the poem is listed as number 314, I use a few rhythmic figures in the work based on a 3-1-4 sequence.

On another level, “Hope” is the thing with feathers is part of my continual pursuit of the exploration of hope and what it means. I composed this piece at the end of 2020, during a time of great unrest and conflict in the United States, my home. As a young adult, just beginning to grow up, I have felt a great mix of emotions regarding the trajectory of my society - but I have always had hope that things will be okay, eventually. Just as one might be a “hopeless romantic”, I might ironically be considered “hopelessly hopeful”. Perhaps John Green’s use of that phrase, “hope is the thing with feathers”, had something to do with that. This work aims to explore the idea of hope as a constant, and as what continues to drive people to work towards and fight for a better society.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers was commissioned by Dr. Anne McNamara and the Illinois State Trumpet Studio, and is dedicated to them. They have my deepest gratitude for giving me the privilege and opportunity to compose for them. This work is also dedicated to two of my role models, Hank Green and John Green, for their positive impact on my life.