1. Stage

Daughter's words live on in composition, 'The Work at Hand'

Months before her death, Laura Morefield sent her poem, The Work at Hand, to composer Jake Heggie, who set it to music. Courtesy of Charlene Baldridge.
Published Nov. 10, 2016

Of four works on this weekend's Florida Orchestra program, Songs of the Sea: Britten, Elgar and Debussy, only three are actually about oceans. And they were an afterthought.

The piece inspired the concert, The Work at Hand, by American composer Jake Heggie, grew out of an unpublished poem about cancer. Its author, Laura Morefield, died at 50 in 2011, of colon cancer.

On Friday, Morefield's mother will attend the concert at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. Charlene Baldridge, 82, also watched the piece debut last year in Carnegie Hall, then with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

"It was wonderful to hear it," Baldridge said, "and it was surprising."

The surprising connections that created it line up like rows on a fuse box. In 2000, Heggie was an up-and-coming composer and pianist who had a concert in the San Diego area. Baldridge, who wrote for a performing arts magazine, interviewed him.

They talked for hours. Baldridge and her daughter, Laura, began going on cruises with Heggie and his husband. In the mid-2000s, a period in which he won a Guggenheim Fellowship, Heggie set four of Baldridge's poems to music, sung in concert by the likes of Kiri Te Kanawa.

Baldridge and Morefield, who lived in Laguna Niguel, Calif., had much in common. Both were former bankers who wrote poetry. They shared a secret humor, bursting out laughing at the same time when no one else had a clue.

The death of Morefield's estranged brother in 2000 changed hit her hard. "That made her realize life was so short, we needed to be together to enjoy the things we both enjoyed while we had time," Baldridge said.

One difference: Baldridge has no qualms about submitting her work for publication, something her daughter was reluctant to do.

"She was just devastated by rejection," Baldridge said.

Morefield filled up notebooks and volunteered at a food bank. In 2008, around the time she was diagnosed with cancer, Heggie asked her to send some of her poetry. Two months before she died, Morefield sent the composer several poems, The Work at Hand on top of the stack. In a subsequent interview with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Heggie called her work "magnificent, powerful, poignant, illuminating, shattering poetry."

The poem isolates moments as the disease advanced: When all I want to do is unfold a small quilt/of sunlight onto the cool green and sit very still,/to let the light of heaven flow over me like honey/until my bones are on fire with the beauty of it all.

The piece represents a wider collaboration than just with Morefield. Heggie wrote it with cellist Anne Martindale Williams of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and mezzo soprano Jamie Barton in mind. Both will perform at this weekend's concerts.

Then there is Florida Orchestra music director Michael Francis, who conducted the debut of The Work at Hand for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and conceived this concert. In another Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra interview, Francis marveled at the soulful cello line.

"You feel that the cello is saying the bits that Laura couldn't say in the words," Francis said.

Baldridge believes the music amplifies her daughter's intentions.

"It was angrier and more upset and more peaceful than I would have imagined," she said.

Contact Andrew Meacham at or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.


  1. The cast of American Stage's production of "Vietgone" includes Sami Ma as Tong and Jeff Kim as Quang. Courtesy of Joey Clay Studio
    An immigrant story with voice offers a fresh perspective.
  2. On Saturday, J.B. Smoove will perform at Ferguson Hall, part of Tampa's Straz Center. RICHARD SHOTWELL  |  Invision/AP
    The comedian known for portraying Leon Black on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ likes to wing it. He hits the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall on Saturday.
  3. The cast performs 'On The Deck Of A Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492' in the Stage West production of 'Songs for a New World', which will be presented Oct. 17-27. Pictured at top, from left: Paris Seaver, Anthony Agnelli and Nicki Poulis. Standing in front: Jay Garcia. Timothy Rooney
    See ‘Songs for a New World’ and other shows in the north Suncoast
  4. Wayne Brady will perform at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Sunday. Courtesy of Mahaffey Theater
    There’s Jeanne Robertson and an inventive Florida Orchestra collaboration, too.
  5. Emilee Dupre and Eric Davis star in Freefall Theatre's production of "The Turn of the Screw." Courtesy of Thee Photo Ninja
    A spooky, risk-filled performance will leave you with questions. | Review
  6. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" will roll through Tampa as part of the Straz Center's 2019-20 Broadway series. JOAN MARCUS  |  Straz Center
    ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ Roy Wood Jr., ‘Vietgone’ at American Stage, Piff the Magic Dragon and more.
  7. Music director Michael Francis leads the Florida Orchestra in the Star-Spangled Banner on Friday during the season-opening program at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. JAY CRIDLIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Friday’s opening night portrayed Tampa as a melting pot, delivering diverse pieces pulled from around the world. | Concert review
  8. Bernadette Peters is pictured at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2015. CHARLES SYKES  |  AP
    Peters follows the likes of Sting and Seal playing with the orchestra.
  9. Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, shown performing "Rhapsody in Blue" with the Florida Orchestra at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater in January, will join the orchestra for its 2019-20 season-opening program this weekend. J.M. LENNON  |  Lennon Media
    Plus, SuicideGirls at Tampa Theatre and comedian Bryan Callen at Tampa Improv.
  10. Ned Averill-Snell, Ami Sallee, Emilia Sargent and Alan Mohney, Jr. in Tampa Repertory Theatre's Dinner With Friends, 2019. Courtesy of KLGold, LLC
    The Pulitzer-winning play illustrates the aftershocks of divorce on marital friendships. | Review