Newly in Print

Getting ready for "Living In A Holy City" with over five hundred voices:
the combined Hopewell Valley H.S. and Timberlane Middle School choirs of New Jersey,
directed by Ken and Rebecca Elpus. See bottom of page for an action shot. 

As She Goes
SSA and piano

  SB13 (Oxford)

"As She Goes" is a memorial commissioned by the people who loved choral educator Eileen Hower, born Eileen Catherine Murphy. Both names will have a virtual presence in any performance, since I’ve linked the letters in those names with musical pitches, similar to my choice of key: “E” for “Eileen”. The music, literally, grows out of her name. The melody is her name.

I'm using an old Italian technique, and so I give the vowels in Eileen's name an Italian pronunciation. Bearing in mind that in continental Europe "do-re-mi" is "ut-re-mi", I take the vowels in "Eileen Catherine Murphy" (e, i, e, e, a, e, i, e, u, y) and construct a melody,first heard at m. 12: "re, mi, re, re, la, re, mi, re, ut, ti".)

At first I keep the "la" in this melody lowered to "so" and then find various ways to let the note bloom upward in a gesture of release and fulfillment, such as in mseasures 16 and 24. Another reason why the "la" of C# is at first lowered to the "so" of the B (also a featured note in the piano part) is that in the European tradition, B natural is called "H": "H" for "Hower", Eileen's married name.

Folk songs were important to Eileen, so this piece opens with a quote from "My Love's An Arbutus" and closes with "Wild Mountain Thyme", which I believe was the last song Eileen heard in this world. Both folk songs are linked through a falling E, C#, B motif, and through the simple but heart-charged word “go”. Both of these songs should also share 3/4 time, but I have nudged "My Love's An Arbutus" into 4/4, and you can feel how the melody yearns for the lilt of triple time, like shoulders yearning for wings. In the same way that I first deny the "la" in the melody so that I can fulfill it, I deny the opening quote its 3/4 time so that I can fulfill it with "Wild Mountain Thyme". For me, the entry of 3/4 is like the soul lilting upwards, an effect similar to the uplift when the voices finally move into three part harmony at the word “sky” at m. 45.

Bobinom' saintom'
SATB a cappella

(SATB) earthsongs   no IBSN

Choeur classique
Choral De La Salle
Bobinom' saintom' is from Les voix de la Vallée de l'Outaouais (The Voices of the Ottawa Valley), a collection of French-Canadian songs and field recordings compiled by ethnologist Lucien Ouellet, a close friend of Marius Barbeau. The music of the Ottawa Valley has not circulated widely as have the many famous French songs from Québec, and I'm grateful to Robert Filion for introducing me to Ouellet's collection, which remains too little known, even amongst French-Canadians. The logging business, which often appears in this collection, could be a much-needed meal ticket for the men of the Ottawa Valley, but as our narrator tells us, the work was so hard that unemployment could seem the lesser of two evils. The refrain of "Bobinom' saintom'" brings together bobin (a spool of thread or bobbin), homme (man) and saint, like the English "saint". (French-Canadian songs are full of off-hand religious references, even in a text that is otherwise secular, and do not carry the connotations of impiety one might feel in an English song.) The refrain then is a half-nonsense chant on "bobbinman, holyman". Whether or not it's intentional, the bobbin makes me think of the circular nature of this song, where words, rhythm and scraps of melody unwind in steady, rapid spirals, like thread shooting off a spool. I'm reminded of the French-Canadian tradition of children spinning their tops as they sang. The score comes with an optional English translation which preserves the rhyme scheme of the original. Commissioned by Robert Filion for Le Choeur classique de L'Outaouais.

The "Choeur classique" soundfile gives a good sense of the robust tone colour of the style. "Choral De La Salle", recorded in a dry acoustic, is lighter in timbre but gives a good up-close model for pronunciation.

TYPO: pickup to measure 45 to measure 47: sopranos should not be singing in parallel seconds with the altos, but should be signing in thirds as they do everywhere else in the score, for example, at m. 58.

Jabula Jesu
(SSAA and two percussion, optionally more)

(SATB)   979-0-051-46723-5
(treble)   979-0-051-48254-2

Hopewell (SATB)
Partner in Praise (treble)
To answer the question I'm most frequently asked, yes, both 'J's are hard,  and "Jabula" is accented on the middle syllable. (There is a pronunciation guide with the score.) An irresistible South African melody in a very rhythmic setting that spotlights every section of the choir. Singers seem to get a big charge out of this one - I wrote it for a first year high  school choir, and it's also been done by middle schools, but even experienced choirs get completely hooked. Easy to learn, and makes quite a show stopper.(An abridged version of this song appears in African Celebration.) If you had success with this piece and want something similar yet different, check out Living In A Holy City.

There is a crazy typo in the translation which has pursued various editions of this piece. "Thandaza" should be "pray", not "play". However, the phrase "have a good time" is not an accident. When I was learning the song from a young man named Prince, he stressed that the mood in this song is one of joyful prayer. "Have a good time" was Prince's own phrase, and I think it may have been that phrase that convinced people that the word was "play". The confusion does raise a pleasing point though. Isn't it rather lovely that the two verbs, play and pray, can have fused owing to this ongoing mistake.

Cantabile from Silicon Valley, led by Elena Sharkova, who commissioned "Breakthrough".
They aren't performing my music in this picture (my guess is Missa Solemnis),
but it's too sweet a shot to resist.

Les draveurs de la Gatineau (Raftsmen of the Gatineau)
SATB and piano

  Cypress CP 1204 (Canada)
(US) Musical Resources of Toledo

Les Choeur classique
Commissioned for Robert Fillion and Le Choeur classique de l'Outaouais as part of a project that explored the French-Canadian folk songs of the Gatineau region, I learned this song from a lady singing a cappella in her kitchen. Arranged as the sort of old-fashioned waltz the raftsmen might dance to at the end of the drive, the SATB voicing is straight-ahead and uncomplicated, but with lots of variety and opportunities for every part to get some spotlight. The French text is a marvelous piece of time-travel, taking us into the logging camps, down the rapids, through the trading post and finally into the party that celebrates the end of the dealings and the close of the working year. While I encourage choirs to sing the French, the score also comes with an English version that is faithful to the meaning, if not to the panache, of the original. The French is much more standard and easily learned than the colloquial texts of many French-Canadian songs, and this piece would be useful to the many choirs in Canadian festivals and competitions who need to sing in both of our national languages.

Andrew Dunsmore

Andrew Dunsmore                  Andrew Dunsmore
Andrew Dunsmore sings and plays "Metal and Wood", a piece for solo voice and percussion
he commissioned as part of his research into the value of choral training for instrumentalists.
The audio clip gives five minutes from the piece, starting when Andrew moves from chant to song
by means of the 'A' from a silver tuning fork. ("Make the metal give its note away.")

Missa Primavera (Our Lady of the Spring)
Soprano Solo, SATB (divisi) and Chamber Ensemble

Czech Choir Festival


Agnus Dei
Premiered June 9, 2012, at the Kostel Nanebevzetí Panny Marie (Church of the Assumption of the Lady Mary) in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic, at the Czech Choir Festival ‘Napsáno pro Sborové slavnosti’. The soprano soloist was Kamila Zborilová, and the Chamber Ensemble was formed by the Gentlemen Singers, who also sponsored the Festival. Ze specjalnymi podziekowaniami dla (with special thanks to) Chór Kameralny Dysonans from Poland, who were at the heart of the sound.

The Chamber Ensemble, which needs at least eight singers, can be TTBB or SSAA. At the premiere the Chamber Ensemble sang the Kyrie from the back of the church; moved to the front at the start of the Sanctus and then performed from there; sang along with the choir in the Gloria; then returned to the back of the church at the start of the Agnus Dei, from where they finished the movement.

I was asked to write a Missa Brevis with multicultural influences, which led to its deep roots in the dance, an art form long connected with the sacred. The Kyrie opens with a phrase that recalls a distinctly Bulgarian rhythm and melodic contour. If taken at twice its speed, the Sanctus could invite Turkish finger cymbals. The Gloria is inspired by the mandolin figures of bluegrass waltzes. Traditionally the most introspective part of the mass, the Agnus Dei recalls lands seen earlier on the voyage, with further travels that bring the Peking Opera together with plainsong and the blues: two modal brothers separated at birth. In this Missa the Gloria and the Sanctus have traded places, and it is now the Gloria that becomes the most light-hearted expression of joy.

The subtitle of my mass links the music to the eternal feminine, the great mother Mary, through whose intercession even fallen nature could appear in its unfallen radiance. Mary’s name comes from the word for “bitter”, and spring is a notoriously vulnerable, bittersweet time of year: “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” (Shakespeare). There is a similar emotional vulnerability in this Missa, which is named for springtime but is full of dark skies. Even the cheerful Gloria, the only movement stable enough to earn a key signature, has moments of shadow. Shadow is a very beautiful thing. The Spanish for “man” (hombre) contains the French for “shadow” (ombre). As if mankind were a shadow that started with a tiny puff of air.

At rehearsal for Chamber Music with pianist Hannah Parks and percussionist Kate MacLean (who also played accordion at the
premiere of "Best To Be Singing In Difficult Times"). Commissioned by Jackie Chambers and the Aeolian Singers.
Also in the picture is Jackie's daughter, Cecelia White.



MosaiK 2013
Written for MosaiK, a festival held in Canada's capital city Ottawa, and commissioned by Kurt Ala-Kantti and Robert Filion. MosaiK pays tribute to both of our official languages - hence the spelling of "mosaik" which is both French and English, and yet neither. The bilingual text, co-authored by Jean-Pierre Dubois-Godin, uses the mosaic tile and the human voice as metaphors for each other, each individual unit adding its crucial contribution to the whole. That the title "mosaik" is all in lower case suggests that any tile, any voice, has as much to contribute as any other, in the same way that English and French have been equally crucial in shaping Canada. This is why the text has been set up so that the French and English lyrics rhyme with each other. By the way, the opening lines translate as "We can't all talk together at the same time, but we can sing together." Although written for a massed choir, "mosaic" also works with concert and chamber choirs, and the themes of cultural diversity and cooperation are universal. The piece is designed to be medium difficulty and a fairly fast learn. There are a couple of challenges, such as the transition at m. 49/50 which always needs some TLC, but there are also some very easy passages, and plenty of repetition in the musical lines. I had a glorious time at this festival, and I'm delighted to see its anthem in print.

Torch Song (The Dark Ages)

SSA and piano; optional string bass and percussion   Porfiri & Harváth
PHP 312 044

Written for Les Ms. Of St. John's Newfoundland (great name for a women's choir, no?), founder and director Dr. Valerie Long. “Torch Song” is a late-night ode to lost love, and to the refusal to be pulled under by it, a piece that combines the choral tradition with that of the cabaret song, full of musical allusions and a world-weary wit. The song’s narrator is up late, taking stock of her heart while watching graveyard TV, and the style of her narration reflects in music the staples of the late-late movie: the cocktail jazz of the spy thriller; the happy trails of the singing cowboy, the beatnik touches of a teen movie coffee-house. Our heroine triumphs, and though the triumph is bitter-sweet, the sweetness is all the sweeter for having known what bitterness is. The history documentary she watches reminds her that she is going through her own "Dark Ages", and that means the Renaissance could be right around the corner.

When icicles hang by the wall (from the Shakespeare anthology Hark, hark, the lark)

(SSA cappella)   978-0-19-340615-5

This famous lyric from Love's Labours Lost is my contribution to Hark, hark, the lark - the Oxford University Press collection of settings of Shakespeare lyrics. "When icicles hang by the wall" creates, in a few lines, an entire winter landscape, from people blowing on their hands as they work, to discovering their milk has turned to ice in the pail; from people attending church full of head colds, to the Yuletide fires in the manor hallway; from serving maids stirring the pot for dinner to the owls calling from the winter wood. My setting, which comes with some optional suggestions for a bit of theatrical blocking, can be sung in the manner of a madrigal, or of a school skit, or everything in between: the song is simultaneously spooky and humorous. The vocal style, very much influenced by the madrigal, is full of the antiphonal, dramatic effects we expect from the tradition, as well as the contrapuntal ethos that ensures every voice sings melodic lines. For more information, check out the link at Oxford University Press:

Living In A Holy City" with over five hundred voices: the combined Hopewell Valley H.S.
and Timberlane Middle School choirs of New Jersey, directed by Ken and Rebecca Elpus.
Accompanist Elizabeth Hartnett can be seen sitting at the piano, singing along in her head.

Photo by Matt Schwartz,