Karen Tanaka was born in Tokyo in 1961. Her works have been performed by distinguished orchestras and ensembles including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France among many others. After studying composition at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, she moved to Paris in 1986 to study with Tristan Murail and work at IRCAM. In 1987, she was awarded the Gaudeamus Prize in Amsterdam. She studied with Luciano Berio in Florence in 1990–1991. Her music is published by Chester Music, Schott Music (PSNY), and Editions BIM. Karen Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and teaches composition at the California Institute of the Arts.
Sleep Deeply, a 2018 unaccompanied vocal ensemble setting of a poem by Michael McGlynn for mezzo-soprano, two tenors and baritone, was selected for performance during the 2019 ISCM World Music Days in Estonia from the individual submissions. In her program notes, Tanaka explained that her setting “was inspired by the lyrics written by Michael McGlynn, composer and artistic director of the Irish vocal ensemble Anuna whom I have long admired. McGlynn originally wrote the lyrics in the Irish language, ‘Codhlaim Go Suan’, based on a medieval Irish poetry that adds mystique to the setting. The text explores the circular nature of life. The refrain phrase, ‘I sleep softly in your heart my Christ’, is sung as a lullaby and it illuminates devotion and love for God.”
He comes with the wind,
He goes on the waves.
He hears my prayer,
When I call him in the darkest moment of the night.
Softly, softly, softly, I sleep softly in your heart my Christ.
Naked he stands at the dawn,
In the new-born child.
He is there at the end,
As the soul parts from the body.
Softly, softly, softly,
I sleep softly in your heart my Christ.
There is no one so full of mercy and love,
There is no way to understand your goodness.
You are my teacher and guide.
Suan, suan, suan, codhlaím go suan, a Íosa,
Suan, suan, suan, codhlaím go sámh id’ chroí. (Text: Michael McGlynn)