NCCO Choral Scholar Vol. 60-1

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Volume 60 | Number 1 WWW.NCCO-USA.ORG SPRING SUMMER 2023

Table of Contents

1 3 5 7 14 18 21 50 54 69

Executive Leadership

Editor Letter

NCCO10 Conference Information

Choral Scholarship and the Beloved Community: A Content Analysis of Published Journal Articles

Patrick Freer

Compositions of Choral Coloniality: The Goddess of Spring by Uyongu Yatauyungana

Hung Wen

Choral Reviews

Nathan Reiff, editor

Contributors: Aaron Peisner

Environmental Activism through Choral Music: John Luther Adams’s Canticles of the Holy Wind

Kirsten Hedegaard

Recording Reviews

Morgan Luttig, editor

Contributors: Tatiana Taylor, Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey, Corey Sullivan

Considering Matthew Shepard Through the Five Stages of Grief

Nicholas Sienkiewicz

Book Reviews

Andrew Crow, editor

Contributors: Katie Gardiner, Christopher G. McGinley, Dan Wessler


NCCO Executive Leadership


Kellori Dower is the Dean of Fine and Performing Arts at Santa Ana College in Santa Ana, California. She was the director of two award-winning high school choral music programs prior to serving as Director of Choral Activities at the collegiate level. Past appointments have also included High School administrator and District Arts Administrator positions. She was the 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Music Educator Award for the California Music Educators Association. She is an active choral composer, adjudicator and clinician. Dr. Dower’s work and research regarding culture and music lead to the creation of collegiate courses in Rap and Hip Hop, Gospel Music and African American folk compositions.


Katherine FitzGibbon is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Lewis & Clark College, where she conducts two of the three choirs, teaches courses in conducting and music history, and oversees the voice and choral areas. Dr. FitzGibbon founded Resonance Ensemble in 2009, a professional choral ensemble presenting powerful programs that promote meaningful social change. Dr. FitzGibbon has also served on the faculty of the summertime Berkshire Choral International festival and conducted choirs at Harvard, Boston, Cornell, and Clark Universities, and at the University of Michigan. She was a previous member of NCCO’s National Board and Mission and Vision in Governance Committee.


Elizabeth Swanson is the Associate Director of Choral Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she is the conductor of the University Choir and CU Treble Chorus, teaches courses in conducting, and serves on master’s and doctoral committees. Dr. Swanson is an active guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator throughout the United States with events planned in Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, and New York City this year. She is currently serving in her second term as NCCO’s Vice President on the Executive Board; additionally, she is honored to have served as the chair of NCCO’s inaugural Mission & Vision in Governance Committee. Her degrees are from Northwestern University (D. Mus. Conducting), Ithaca College (MM Conducting), and St. Olaf College (BME).



Michael McGaghie serves as Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Macalester College, where he conducts the college’s two choirs and teaches courses in conducting, musicianship, and Passion settings from Bach to the present. He also directs the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and the Harvard Glee Club Young Alumni Chorus. His recognitions from ACDA include an invitation to conduct the Macalester Concert Choir at the 2016 North Central division conference, an ICEP fellowship to China, and the Julius Herford Prize. Prior to his elected term as Treasurer, Dr. McGaghie served on NCCO’s National Board and as an inaugural member of the Mission and Vision in Governance Committee.


Marie Bucoy-Calavan has been Director of Choral Studies at The University of Akron since 2014, where she conducts Chamber Choir, Concert Choir, and teaches undergraduate– and graduate-level conducting and choral literature. She serves as secretary on Chorus America’s Board of Directors and as coordinator and chair for University Repertoire and Resources, Ohio Choral Directors Association. Bucoy-Calavan finished her BA and MM at California State University, Fullerton, and completed her DMA in Choral Conducting at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music.


Associate Professor Jace Kaholokula Saplan (they/he) serves as Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music Learning and Teaching and choral conducting at Arizona State University where they oversee the graduate program in choral conducting, conduct the ASU Concert Choir, and teach courses in choral literature and pedagogy that weave decolonial and critical theories with communal vocal practice. Recently, Saplan was named as the third artistic director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington (Choral Arts DC). As a Kanaka Maoli advocate, artist, and culture bearer, Saplan is also the artistic director of Nā Wai Chamber Choir, a vocal ensemble based in Hawaiʻi dedicated to the preservation, propagation, and innovation of Hawaiian choral music.


Dr. Angelica Dunsavage (she/they) serves as Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choirs at Tennessee State University, where she conducts the TSU University Choir and the Meistersingers and teaches courses in conducting and music education. Prior to her appointment at TSU, Angelica taught music education and choral/vocal classes at Washington State University. She received her DMA in Choral Conducting and Music Education from University of Arizona, her MM in Choral Conducting from Bowling Green State University, and her BS in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.


Being the Change We Seek

Angelica Dunsavage

Iam honored to write this, my first letter as Chief Editor of Publications for The Choral Scholar and American Choral Review . First, I would like to thank Mark Nabholz, previous editor, for his guidance as well as the current NCCO Executive Board for entrusting this publication to myself and the editorial board. I would also like to introduce new members and positions to our editorial board:

• Jace Saplan has shifted their role as previous Associate Editor for Recording Reviews to a new column dedicated to Affinity Group and ADEI-based work. This new column premieres in this edition.

• Morgan Luttig has joined the board as Associate Editor for Recording Reviews

• Nathan Reiff has joined the board as Associate Editor for Score Reviews

• Michael Porter is taking on the work of our newly combined publication as Associate Editor for the Research Memorandum Series. This addition to The Choral Scholar will be published annually to include dissertation and thesis abstracts from recent masters and doctoral students.

• To aid authors in developing topics and writing style, the editorial board has invited a team of Editorial Mentors. These mentors are available upon request to provide feedback and direction for completed articles, or ideas in progress. Our three Editorial Mentors are Hilary Apfelstadt, Edward Maclary, and Magen Solomon.

Merriam Webster defines scholarship as “the character, qualities, activities, or attainments of a scholar.” Why then, does the practice of scholarship so often get reduced to a word count, formatting style, topic, or publication type? With this reflection comes the acknowledgement that the choral field has a history of preference to certain scholarship, and scholars, at the exclusion of others. The Choral Scholar, with the support of the Mission, Vision, and Governance committee, is committed to opening the door to scholarly expression in a way that is equitable, diverse, and responsive to the needs of 21st-century choral scholars. In this framework, we are excited to announce the following changes to our submission guidelines present on our website,

• Peer-reviewed articles will remain a feature of this publication. Authors who wish to submit completed articles for peer

From the Editor
3 VOLUME 60 | NUMBER 1 | SPRING 2023
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama

announce the following changes to our submission guidelines present on our website,

review are encouraged to do so but will have the option for additional feedback from an Editorial Mentor if requested.

• Peer-reviewed articles will remain a feature of this publication. Authors who wish to submit completed articles for peer review are encouraged to do so but will have the option for additional feedback from an Editorial Mentor if requested.

• Submissions are now open for article ideas and works in progress. We would like to hear from a growing number of authors, particularly those who may have been uninspired to submit an article, and commit to guiding groundbreaking ideas into publication.

• Submissions are now open for article ideas and works in progress. We would like to hear from a growing number of authors, particularly those who may have been uninspired to submit an article, and commit to guiding groundbreaking ideas into publication.

• The Choral Scholar will be expanding to include new methods of scholarship, including interviews, videos, creative writing, and podcasts. If you have an idea to share, or want to get involved, please see our website or email

• The Choral Scholar will be expanding to include new methods of scholarship, including interviews, videos, creative

to share, or want to get involved, please see our website or email

The Choral Scholar and American Choral Review is a reflection of NCCO: it is our organization’s mission and vision put into the practice of research. As such, this edition challenges us to move forward into change. Patrick Freer’s article A Beloved Community reminds that there is much work to be done to align the choral field’s values with its research. Kirsten Hedegaard’s article Environmentalism through Choral Music highlights how choral music can be a message for social change. Nicholas Sienkiewicz combines psychology with musical analysis to unpack the emotional impact of Considering Matthew Shepard. We hope that this publication continues to expand possible and change we seek.

The Choral Scholar and American Choral Review is a reflection of NCCO: it is our organization’s mission and vision put into the practice of research. As such, this edition challenges us to move forward into change. Patrick Freer’s article A Beloved Community reminds that there is much work to be done to align the choral field’s values with its research. Kirsten Hedegaard’s article Environmentalism through Choral Music highlights how choral music can be a message for social change. Nicholas Sienkiewicz combines psychology with musical analysis to unpack the emotional impact of Considering Matthew Shepard We hope that this publication continues to expand what is possible in choral scholarship and be the change we seek.




Apply to Present or Perform at NCCO10*

The National Collegiate Choral Organization announces its 10th Biennial Conference, “Coming Home,” to be hosted by Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, November 9–11, 2023.

After four years apart, this conference will provide in-person opportunities for professional development and connections with peers. We will address new challenges facing our students, our programs, and our own well-being. We will share ideas that serve many types of post-secondary institutions. We will once again enjoy live performances of wonderful repertoire! Perhaps most importantly, we will celebrate our accomplishments and the joys of our profession.

We look forward to coming back home to our NCCO community.

*Most applications due May 1, with decisions by June 15.


Calls for Participation

We warmly invite all individuals from choral and related fields to share their expertise. Each call will be adjudicated by a panel of NCCO members. Applicants must be active members of NCCO, so we encourage you to join or renew today. Our membership rates continue to be the lowest in the profession for both regular and student members.

The conference will also include a plenary panel hosted by Dr. David Morrow (Morehouse College) with arts leaders from across the Atlanta University Center consortium of HBCU institutions, as well as performances by our hosts and special guests. NCCO will announce headliners and invited choirs in the early summer.

Please consider applying for the following opportunities.


Choral Performance

Interest Sessions

Panel Participation

“Considering Collegiate Choral Excellence”

“Reframing Workloads and Professional Evaluation”


Poster Sessions


Graduate Student Conducting Fellowship

registration will open on or around July 15. 6

Choral Scholarship and the Beloved Community: A Content Analysis of Published Journal Articles

The article reports findings from a study purposed toward examining if, and how, the tenets of Beloved Community have been reflected in published choral research. The 2022 National Conference of the National Collegiate Choral Association (NCCO) reflected a response to the wave of civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by police officers in May 2020. Coinciding with the period COVID-19 lockdowns, the unrest highlighted other instances of brutality attributed to race, including the killing of Rashard Brooks in Atlanta. The NCCO conference was set to take place in 2021 at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, a historically black institution; it was instead held virtually in 2022.

The conference theme honored Morehouse graduate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s conception of Beloved Community, described by the King Center as:

a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.1

1 “The King Philosophy,” accessed October 4, 2022, https://

The call for NCCO conference proposals directed presenters to examine the organization’s statement of mission and values. The call included the following text referencing the principles of Beloved Community:

Our conference theme is rooted in the work we have done over the past year to unearth the stories of our choral world, identifying where we have erred and where we have room to grow. In Building Beloved Community, we agree to take on the work of care for one another, while acknowledging that we can only offer our deepest artistry and most impactful pedagogy when we feel safe to be ourselves. The NCCO9 conference planning team welcomes proposals from our membership for our presentations in all areas that amplify this message of connection and empathy.2

This study consisted of a content analysis of peer-reviewed articles appearing in the research journals, since inception, of the National

2 “NCCO9 Conference Theme,” accessed October 4, 2022, https://

Collegiate Choral Organization (the Choral Scholar & American Choral Review) and the American Choral Directors Association (the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing) for topics and themes consistent with the values emerging as important to the profession in the current era of cultural unrest and distrust. Though ACDA’s Choral Journal also publishes scholarly articles, the two journals reviewed for this project are the associations’ designated research publications. The International Journal of Research in Choral Singing is the scientific research journal of the American Choral Directors Association.3 Founded in 2002, the journal has encouraged researchbased understandings that promote mutually informative conversation among scientific, artistic, and pedagogical orientations to choir singing. The Choral Scholar & American Choral Review, first published in 2009, is the scholarly journal of the National Collegiate Choral Organization. 4 The study purpose was to determine if, to what extent, and how the content of these journals reflected the conference themes, including Beloved Community.

Method and Procedures

The researchers were a university professor and an undergraduate research assistant affiliated with a university in downtown Atlanta. The civil protests of May and June 2020 took place in the immediate blocks around the university’s School of Music, with some of the music buildings sustaining damage during the events. The study was developed in the aftermath of the protests. The study’s author was a 56-year-old white male professor, and the undergraduate student was a 19-year-old black male who had graduated a year earlier from a local high school. Both used

3 “International Journal of Research in Choral Singing,” accessed October 4, 2022,

4 “The Choral Scholar & American Choral Review,” accessed October 4, 2022,

he/him/his pronouns. The student maintained a written record of his personal reflections while the study proceeded; these reflections are excerpted later in this article.

The study proceeded in three phases, in line with previously established protocols for reviews of journal content in the arts and humanities.5 Data collection and analysis followed the model of systematic review developed by Petticrew and Roberts, suggested as an appropriate review method “when it is known that there is a wide range of research on a subject but where key questions remain unanswered.”6 This review included quantitative and qualitative investigations, theoretical writings, historical texts, and commentaries. The sources varied substantially in design, methodological rigor, assessment, and analysis. For this reason, a narrative, synthetic approach 7 was selected as the presentation format for this systematic review.

The first task was to identify the total data set of all items published in the two journals, as displayed on the respective journal websites. The total data set was determined to comprise 151 items. Sixty-four items were published in

5 Patrick K. Freer, “Challenging the Canon: LGBT Content in Arts Education Journals,” Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 196 (2013): 45–63. https://doi. org/10.5406/bulcouresmusedu.196.0045; Yu-Pin Huang, Y., Melanie E. Brewster, Bonnie Moradi, Melinda B. Goodman, Marcie C. Wiseman, and Annelise Martin, “Content Analysis of Literature about LGB People of Color: 1998–2007,” The Counseling Psychologist 38, no. 3 (2010): 363-396. doi: 10.1177/0011000009335255; Julia C. Phillips, Kathleen M. Ingram, Nathan Grant Smith, and Erica J. Mindes, “Methodological and Content Review of Lesbian-, Gay-, and Bisexual-Related Articles in Counseling Journals: 1990-1999,” The Counseling Psychologist 31, no. 1 (2003), 25–62.https://doi. org/10.1177/0011000002239398

6 Mark Petticrew, and Helen Roberts, Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 21.

7 David N. Boote, and Penny Beile, “Scholars Before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research Preparation,” Educational Researcher 34, no. 6 (2005): 3–15.; Chris Hart, Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Research Imagination, 2nd ed. (London, UK: Sage Publications, 2018).


the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing (2003–2021), including 52 articles, eight editorials, and four miscellaneous items. Eighty-seven items were published in The Choral Scholar & American Choral Review (2009–2021), 48 articles, 12 editorials, 24 sets of reviews of repertoire, recordings, and/or books, and three miscellaneous items.

The first phase of review consisted of identifying all mentions of content relevant to the study. The total data set of 151 items was screened according to procedures developed by Littell, Corcoran, and Pillai.8 The review examined for both primary and secondary themes. Primary themes were those referenced in the NCCO conference call for proposals, specifically “right-relationships,” “cultural consciousness,” “cultural resilience,” and “culturally responsive teaching/learning.”

These were named directly within the text of the call and/or within the organization’s mission and vision statements.9 The first-phase examination was of all journal content, regardless of article type or peer-reviewed status.

The focus of the second phase was a review for all content related to, but not directly using, those terms. The third phase of the review included more focused examination of all content related to the study’s secondary themes of “caring,” “connection,” “community,” and “empathy.” Analysis followed processes of reflexive thematic analysis.10

Findings and Discussion

Thirteen items (8.6%) in the total data set (N=151) were deemed to reflect elements of “Beloved Community.” All 13 were research articles. Each of the study’s four primary themes was identified within one or more of the 13 articles. These 13 articles, then, each reflected one or more of the study’s secondary themes. These results are shown in Table 1, with the abbreviations “CS” (The Choral Scholar & American Choral Review) and “IJRCS” (International Journal of Research in Choral Singing).

(Table 1 shown on next page.)

Twelve of these 13 articles were published in 2018 or later. There is little recognition or discussion of singers’ race or ethnicity in these articles. It is interesting that issues of race and ethnicity have received relatively little attention from this subset of the choral research community, while 31% of the articles reflecting Beloved Community dealt with issues of singers’ gender and/or sexuality (still only n =4, however). Might this indicate that choral researchers are more comfortable with topics of gender and sexuality than they are with topics of race and ethnicity? Or, might it indicate that choral researchers study what they find familiar, with gender and sexuality being familiar to those in research positions—or, at least more familiar than issues of race and ethnicity?

8 Julia H. Littell, Jacqueline Corcoran, and Vijayan Pillai, Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

9 “Vision & Mission,” accessed October 4, 2022, https://ncco-usa. org/about/vision-mission.

10 Virginia Braun, and Victoria Clarke, Thematic Analysis: A Practical Guide (London, UK: Sage Publications, 2021); Virginia Braun, and Victoria Clarke, “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology,” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3, no. 2 (2006): 77–101.

Within the group of articles focused on gender and sexuality, the topics were addressed exclusively within the paradigmatic theme of Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. Where current academic conversations often concern the need for a broad cultural consciousness of gender and sexuality, the articles in this collection focused exclusively on pedagogy responsive to the genders and sexualities of students within our choirs. That



Right-Relationships Connection, Solidarity

CS/ACR Arnold, D. (2020). Serge Jaroff and his Don Cossack Choir: The refugees who took the world by storm.


Cultural Consciousness Empathy, Equality

MacIntosh, H. B., Tetrault, A.,Vallée, J. (2020). “Trying to sing through the tears.” Choral music and childhood trauma: Results of a pilot study.

CS/ACR Zakery, H., Jr. (2021). William Grant Still’s ...And They Lynched Him on a Tree: A performance and reception history.

IJRCS Baker, V. D. (2018). A gender analysis of composers and arrangers of middle and high school choral literature on a statemandated list.

IJRCS Cash, S. (2019). Middle and high school choral directors’ programming of world music.

Cultural Resilience Community, Integration

CS/ACR Crowe, D. R. (2021). Retention of college students and freshman-year music ensemble participation.

IJRCS Brown, T. R. (2012). Students’ registration in collegiate choral ensembles: Factors that Influence continued participation.

Culturally Responsive Teaching & Learning Caring, Inclusion

CS/ACR Saplan, J. (2018). Creating inclusivity: Transgender singers in the choral rehearsal.

IJRCS Parkinson, D. J. (2018). Diversity and inclusion within adult amateur singing groups: A literature review.

IJRCS Latimer, M. E., Jr. (2008). “Our voices enlighten, inspire, heal and empower:” A mixed methods investigation of demography, sociology, and identity acquisition in a gay men’s chorus.

IJRCS Cates, D. S. (2020). Music, community, and justice for all: Factors influencing participation in gay men’s choruses.

IJRCS Howard, K. (2020). Knowledge practices: Changing perceptions and pedagogies in choral music education.

IJRCS Killian, J. N., Wayman J. B., Antoine, P. M. (2021). Choral directors’ self-report of accommodations made for boys’ changing voices: A twenty-year replication.

Table 1: Themes and Articles
Themes Secondary Themes Journal Article

may be reflection of the pedagogical work that choral conductors do daily. It may reflect the ease with which choral researchers have access to specific populations of students, requiring relatively simple approval processes from university research bureaus. Or, it may simply demonstrate the interest of choral conductors in the improvement of the craft of rehearsing and preparing singers for high level music making.

Smaller sets of articles addressed the other three themes related to Beloved Community. RightRelationships have been defined as those based on “honesty, trust, mutual respect, and love…with [re-examination] of prejudice and exclusion.”11

The two articles in this set addressed very different elements of “righting” relationships, with one article dealing with choral music’s role in the healing of relationships after trauma, and the other describing choirs as connections between different peoples.

The theme of Cultural Resilience backgrounded two articles exploring issues of transition, recruitment, and retention in choral music at the tertiary level. The theme is relevant to these articles because both studies yielded results indicating that when not required by their major, students enroll in choral ensembles due, chiefly, to the social component of group singing. This is supported by Cultural Resilience’s secondary themes of community and integration; both address the emotional and social connections afforded by a shared sense of cultural-community milieu.

empathy and equality. The term “empathy” is derived from the German “Einfühlung” (or “feeling into”),12 through with a stance where conductors are obliged to “to keep an emotional distance, avoid the presumption of total understanding, and retain a position of analytical curiosity.”13

Colleen Kirk, longtime choral conductor at Florida State University, once outlined choral conductors “must be thoroughly grounded in musicianship sensitivities and understandings, care about the singers and their concerns, be alert to cues which reveal the interests and growth of choir members, and be sensitive to time and to comfortable rehearsal and concert pacing.”

14 The studies reported in the articles comprising this subgroup examined the genders of composers and arrangers on lists of contest-required choral repertoire, how choral conductors approach the programming of world music, and the socio-political and critical response to repertoire that challenges performance norms and/or sensibilities. The secondary themes of empathy and equality linked these three articles, as each sought to heighten the profession’s awareness of how decisions of pedagogy and performance impact perceptions of our choral programs for institutions, for audiences, and, principally, for singers.

Student Reflection

This study’s undergraduate research assistant wrote a reflection paper at the conclusion of the project. He wrote as a new college music major, as a high-performing choral singer, and as a person of color (POC). This student’s words give context

The final primary theme, Cultural Consciousness, referred to a process of becoming aware (conscious) of others’ values, histories, and experiences. The related secondary themes were

11 “Covenant of Beloved Community,” accessed October 4, 2022,

12 “Empathy,” accessed October 4, 2022, https://plato.stanford. edu/entries/empathy/.

13 Patrick K. Freer, “The Successful Transition and Retention of Boys from Middle School to High School Choral Music,” Choral Journal 52, no. 10 (2012): 10. stable/23560678.

14 See Patrick K. Freer, “The Conductor’s Voice: Working Within the Choral Art,” Choral Journal 48, no. 4 (2007): 36. https:// doi.10.2307/23557622


to both the study and to his experiences within choral music at the tertiary level. The following is excerpted from the longer essay:

I was about to enter my freshman year of college with a major in music education and a passion for choral singing. As my view of the world started to sharpen, in part due to the social unrest that occurred in Summer 2020, I started to analyze everything around me on a racial and cultural spectrum. I couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity in my high school’s choir program. It seems that POC students are enrolling in choir in fewer and fewer numbers. As I have talked with many of my POC classmates about why they chose to leave choir, they are almost synonymous in their response: lack of inclusivity.

Inclusivity in the choral setting is not an easy task, especially when POC’s make up such a small percentage of choral directors at the high school and collegiate levels. While this can be a touchy or sensitive topic to discuss, it is most certainly one that needs to be talked about. It astonished me that there has been so little research found in the two journals we examined for this project.

I feel there are two main steps choral directors should take here. The first is to re-establish their program (classroom) as a safe space at the beginning of each new year. The second step is harder because it involves history, society, and long-standing tradition: re-consideration of repertoire. Choral music is so much more than one time period, or one group of people from the same demographic. The beautiful thing about music is that it can allow freedom of expression and develop camaraderie for people across a multitude of cultures and backgrounds.

It is imperative that the diverse world that we live in is represented through the choices in our repertoire. This is critically important for POC choral students. It goes beyond the repertoire on the concert. It acknowledges the soul of the choir.

Several of the 13 articles identified in this study bore findings relevant to this student’s comments. Among these, Parkinson offered in a note that “research into diversity and inclusion within the field of music education has tended to focus on the inclusion of individuals with special needs and there is little that considers wider aspects of inclusion.”15 Howard reported choral conductors’ perceptions of the pressure they experience in the public arenas of education and musical performance: “Choral music educators often referenced a fear of making mistakes or of causing offense as main barriers to trying new techniques, sounds, repertoire, and growing their personal understandings of the sociocultural context of the music cultures their groups perform.”16 While Crowe opened their article with a summary of studies that had examined how retention rates might be improved for POC, neither Crowe’s study nor its discussion addressed racial or cultural diversity in any manner.17 Zackery, in his advocation for performance of Still’s ...And They Lynched Him on a Tree wrote, “We find ourselves grasping the ramifications of systemic inequities and forms of ‘lynching’ on different types of ‘roadside trees,’ as the Black Lives Matter Movement and pleas for meaningful change grow louder and stronger.”18

15 Diana J. Parkinson, “Diversity and Inclusion within Adult Amateur Singing Groups: A Literature Review,” International Journal of Research in Choral Singing 6 (2018): 42.

16 Karen Howard, “Knowledge Practices: Changing Perceptions and Pedagogies in Choral Music Education,” International Journal of Research in Choral Singing 8 (2020): 13.

17 Don R. Crowe, “Retention of College Students and FreshmanYear Music Ensemble Participation,” The Choral Scholar and American Choral Review 59, no. 1 (2021): 75–82.

18 Harlan Zackery, Jr., “William Grant Still’s ...And They Lynched Him on a Tree: A Performance and Reception History,” The Choral Scholar and American Choral Review 59, no. 1 (2021): 13.


Summary and Implications

This analysis suggests that article content broadly related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s concept of Beloved Community is not prevalent in the Choral Scholar & American Choral Review and the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing . Only 13 of 151 items published in the two journals were found to reflect themes associated with Beloved Community, though 12 of these were published in the last four years under consideration. It appears that recent choral researchers have recently begun to address related topics. Further research might examine journals of choral practice, such as Choral Journal, with a similar study design. It would be interesting to know if choral researchers influence practice, or if choral practice influences decisions of research topic and study design. Additional research might seek to identify the affiliations of study authors to understand whether related journal content is being generated at the doctoral level, or by choral conductors employed within higher education. Do working choral conductors have the contractual time and career latitude to conduct these types of studies? If not, do they need to consciously direct their doctoral students toward studies addressing issues of Right-Relationships, Cultural Consciousness, Cultural Resilience, and Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning in our profession? Choral scholars might begin by focusing their work on several of this study’s secondary themes, including connection, equality, integration, and caring.

Nel Noddings’ (1929–2022) conception of care provides an apt encapsulation of the relationship between Beloved Community and the choral work of conductors, composers, and choristers. Noddings asked, simply, “What does it mean to care and be cared for?”19 In terms of moving from theory to practice, Noddings advised that, “Our efforts must, then, be directed to the maintenance of conditions that make caring difficult.”20 Choral conductors and choral researchers might consider whether the word “maintenance” can be correctly applied to our profession, or whether we might consider instead that our efforts must, then, be directed to the transformation of conditions that make caring difficult. That is, indeed, the vision of Beloved Community.

— Patrick K. Freer

Patrick Freer is Professor of Music at Georgia State University where he conducts the Tenor-Bass Choir and directs the doctoral programs in music education. Dr. Freer has held Visiting Professorships at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg (Austria) and at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), and has been in residence as a guest conductor for the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra (Colombia). His degrees are from Westminster Choir College and Teachers College-Columbia University. Dr. Freer is Editor of the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing and former longtime editor of Music Educators Journal.

19 Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (University of California Press, 1984): 3.

20 Noddings, Caring, 5.


As the Director of Affinity Groups for NCCO and the Affinity Group Column Editor for the Choral Journal, I am excited to bring responsive and sustainable voices and approaches to embodying Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Access, and Belonging to our field that bridges theory and practice. This column will feature voices and perspectives that assist us in expanding our practice in informed and nuanced ways.

This issue we highlight contributions from our Asian/Pacific Islander Affinity Group and feature composer, culture bearer, and choral musician Hung Wen, who discusses the impact of colonization on Taiwan’s approach to choral musicking and shares with us her research of Taiwanese Tsou composer, Uyonge Yatauyungana and his work, The Goddess of Spring.

Compositions of Choral Coloniality: The Goddess of Spring by

What is Taiwanese choral literature?”

I started to think about this question because choral music or choir is not a traditional music form for the Taiwanese that lived five hundred years ago. But now, we do feel familiar with the choral repertoire. The idea for choral music and choir should wait until the 15th century. After the Discovery of age, two western countries ruled parts of the west coast of Taiwan, the Spanish and the Dutch. They brought missionaries and church music into the island, so the ancestors started to know this new music genre and singing style. However, not until the early 20th century, Taiwanese starts to learn choral music by the later government force. In addition, the choir was used to educate Taiwanese from elementary to high school, and people gradually forgot or became unfamiliar with the traditional vocal music and singing style. The paper discusses the colonial construction in a choir piece composed by a Taiwanese indigenous composer by understanding Taiwan’s regime history and how it is influenced in choral works.

Taiwan is between two mainland, China and Japan. It is also adjacent to the Philippine Islands across the Bashi Channel. From a geopolitical perspective, Taiwan is located in the central area of the East Asian Island arc, which is a vital hub for Asia-Pacific trade transportation and an important military strategic location. Starts from 15th century, Taiwan has always been ruled, under control, or even colonized by outsiders. After WWII, Taiwan had been returning back from Japanese government to China (Republic of China). In 1949, the Republic of China government evacuated from mainland China and entered Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War. To fight against the Chinese Communist Party, The


Declaration of Martial Law began in the early period when the Republic of China (R.O.C.) government moved to Taiwan. During the time, the government promoted the Chinese Cultural Renaissance, causing the second fault in the inheritance of the local Taiwanese and aboriginal culture. 1 Martial law was lifted in 1987, and local awareness rose. Taiwan’s government also completed the first peaceful party rotation in 2000.

After the Chinese Civil War in 1949, a further 1.2 million people from mainland China entered Taiwan. On the other hand, Taiwanese indigenous comprise approximately 2% of the population and now mostly live in the mountainous eastern part. Although the indigenous peoples have been forced to ban traditional cultural rituals on many occasions, they still retain their language, practices, costumes, and traditional beliefs.

At present, the ethnic population of Taiwan is generally divided into Taiwanese and native Taiwanese. The former is Han, mainly from mainland China. The latter are indigenous people; currently, there are 16 ethnic groups officially recognized. Han Chinese makes up over 95% of the population, mainly are Fujian and Hakka.

Taiwan’s complex historical background and multiculturalism have profoundly influenced the development of choral music. Through the spread of Christianity and the promotion of school education, it has become a popular music genre in Taiwan. Following the government changes in Taiwan’s history and the rejection and absorption

Age of Discovery.

• West coast/plain: 1624 Dutch Formosa

1626 Spanish Formosa

1662 Kingdom of Tungning

1684–1895 under Quing Rule

• East cost/Mountain: Native Taiwanese


• Taiwan under Japan Rule


• The Great Retreat

• Declaration of Martial Law in Taiwan


• Repealed Martial Law

• 2000 First Transition of Power

• Choral music become a familiar form and performance style.

• Applied to school (education)

• Use chorus as a medium to condense the national spirit or

• Expressing will to resist the government.

Before 20th 20th Century Historical Background, Government
Music Function
brought church music, Church service music.
1 The first time was the period of Japanese rule. At that time, the Taiwanese must speak Japanese and be loyal to the Tennō, the Japanese emperor.

of Western culture, choral music has played a pivotal role in Taiwan’s music ecology. In addition, the chorus is often used as a medium to reflect social patterns and consciousness. The chorus has also become a standard propaganda method of cultural and political ideology through music competitions and concerts.

Uyonge Yatauyungana (July 5, 1908–April 17, 1954) was born during Japanese rule, died during the government of the Republic of China. He is known as a Taiwanese Tsou2 musician and educator. He served as a local officer and a leader of the indigenous autonomous movement in early post-war Taiwan. In 1952, during the White Terror period of martial law, he was accused of treason by the ROC government for claiming indigenous autonomy. In 2020, He was posthumously pardoned by the Transitional Justice Commission. During his college, he began to contact modern Western music theory and literary classics. He also assisted the Russian scholar N. A. Nevskij in compiling a survey of the Tsou language and folk literature of the Tefuye tribe. He later studied Japanese haiku poetry and literature, which influenced his musical appreciation and poetry style. In 1930, he returned to Dabang Primary School to teach and devoted himself to tribal education, health, agriculture, and economy. He also wrote several songs to teach students to sing. His music composition expressed caring for the Tsou and was influenced by the Japanese charm and the Tsou’s folk songs. A small part of the lyrics is written in Japanese, and most are sung in the Tsou language.

The Goddess of Spring is a two-part chorus composed by Yatauyungana in prison. The content expresses the yearning for his wife and hometown. The

2 The Tsou (Chinese:鄒) are an indigenous people of central southern Taiwan. They are one of the Austronesian language groups. Reside in Chiayi County and Nantou County numbered around 6,000, and approximately 1.19% of Taiwan’s total indigenous population, making them the seventh-largest indigenous group.

melodic line is influenced by Japanese Enka (popular songs), and the composition technique is very westernized. He configured many 3/6th intervals, which is not often seen in Tsou folk music. The melody range is not so broad that it is a lyrical piece without many emotional ups and downs. The song was banned from singing until the declaration of martial law was lifted, while his work received significant attention after 1990. Many organizations have used this piece to symbolize freedom and democracy in recent years.

Finally, I want to talk about colonial construction under the piece of the Goddess of Spring . By understanding Taiwan’s political history and composition background, I think the colonial construction of this work is complex and multilayered. First, the composer devoted his life to the revival of Tsou culture. However, under the influence of Japanese culture and Westernization, his music works hardly have the characteristics of Tsou music. Ironically, he wants to use the chorus as a medium to preserve the Tsou language and traditional music. But musical language has long been gradually influenced by the colonial culture: the melody logic is entirely Japanese tunes and accompanied with Western counterpoint. Furthermore, I think he hopes to achieve decolonization through the chorus, but eventually, the essence is to reflect the success of the Japanese colonial ultimately. Ironically, this work was regarded as a forbidden song during the Republic of China government because the style and lyrics are both reminiscent of the Japanese style. It was stigmatized (but the truth is the composer wants to express his feelings for the Tsou.) In the end, Yatauyungana was also shot for treason.

Second, high schools and adult choirs have frequently performed this piece in recent years. “De-Sinicization” has been heatedly discussed in Taiwan in the past ten years. Since 1987, DeSinicization has been a political movement to


reverse the Sinicization policies of the Chinese Nationalist Party after 1947(R.O.C.), which many proponents allege created an environment of prejudice and racism against the local Taiwanese Hokkien and indigenous Taiwanese population, as well as acknowledge the indigenous and multicultural character of the island in Taiwan. It emphasizes Taiwan’s national identity (not the same country as China, But two countries). Under this trend, the Goddess of Spring is regarded as a symbol of freedom, democracy, and a new identity and is used to fight against the stale, old, and the majority of Chinese culture. Undoubtedly, the indigenous identity has also received unprecedented attention. Based on the above explanation, I interpret the extension of colonization as the power changes between mainstream culture and minority culture. The social consciousness of the new generation wants to emphasize Taiwan’s local culture and especially aboriginal culture that is not inherited from mainland China and tries to weaken the connection of traditional Chinese culture. Therefore, the government pays more attention to local artistic works and lists many early indigenous educators and musicians as important intangible cultural heritage. However, I feel a little ironic as a Tsou and a descendent of Yatauyungana.

people, the Tsou is still an endangered culture and a community that is about to face the disappearance of language and tradition. In such an environment, The Goddess of Spring has become a representative of the new generation of Taiwanese decolonization (deSinicization). However, has the decolonization component indeed succeeded from Tsou's perspective? Or has it become another victim of political intention?

Yatauyungana has changed from treason to a national hero because of the difference in time and environment. But for the Tsou people, since the period of Japanese rule, we have never really gotten the right to decide; pessimistically, whether it is Japanese or Han (R.O.C.), it is almost impossible for us to get out of colonial rule construction. Although the evolution of the times and the rise of social consciousness have attracted more and more attention to the issue of aboriginal people, the Tsou is still an endangered culture and a community that is about to face the disappearance of language and tradition. In such an environment, The Goddess of Spring has become a representative of the new generation of Taiwanese decolonization (de- Sinicization). However, has the decolonization component indeed succeeded from Tsou’s perspective? Or has it become another victim of political intention?

The colonial history is very complicated and multi-layered, and as a result, Taiwanese identity cannot be clearly stated from one single angle. In such an environment, I think Yatauyungana's music works faithfully reflect the influence of colonial construction.

The colonial history is very complicated and multilayered, and as a result, Taiwanese identity cannot be clearly stated from one single angle. In such an environment, I think Yatauyungana’s music works faithfully reflect the influence of colonial construction. Finally, I am very appreciative of this paper, which allowed me to deeply re-learn Taiwan’s choral literature, as well as about my cultural identity.

Finally, I am very appreciative of this paper, which allowed me to deeply re-learn Taiwan's choral literature, as well as about my cultural identity.

Uyonge Yatauyungana TheGoddessofSpring 1952

Choral Reviews

Look out for squalls

Hilary Purrington (b. 1990)

SATB div., unaccompanied (c. 4’)

Text: English: The Weekly Star (Wilmington, North Carolina)

Score available from the composer

Recording: University of North Carolina Wilmington Chamber Choir, Aaron Peisner. April 24, 2022.

(credibility and character of the speaker) by proclaiming himself not to be an alarmist or a fraud: “The forecasts are not based on superstition or secrets, but what I know to be real, physical causes.” He appeals to logos (reason) by explaining those physical causes: the alignment of equinoxes of Saturn and Jupiter, which “cause great electric disturbances in our solar system.”

As the effects of climate change become increasingly dire, it is encouraging to see composers and musicians grappling with the subject in both overt and subtle ways. Hilary Purrington’s recent composition, Look out for squalls, sets text from an 1891 Wilmington, NC newspaper article describing the predictions of a “weather prophet.” Both textually and musically, Look out for squalls evokes the destructive power of hurricanes, the urgency of preparing for dangerous weather, and the sometimes illusory nature of information and expertise, without ever veering into the obvious or cliché.

The weather prophet’s words, which Purrington sets selectively, utilize the rhetorical triangle–pathos, ethos, and logos. Beginning with pathos (emotion, values), his opening words appeal to fear: “Look out for squalls beginning in May this year…destructive storms will begin to manifest themselves…and the great battle of the elements will begin in earnest.” He then appeals to ethos

Rather than passing judgment on the weather prophet’s astrological argument, Purrington decides to take his words at face value, matching each section of text with music that enhances and deepens its conviction and leaving the audience to decide what to make of this text. Her initial tempo marking, “With urgency,” along with driving rhythms, unisons that slowly reveal a minor mode, slides of major seconds to unisons, and outbursts of triads, meet the intensity of the weather prophet’s forecasts. The middle section, beginning with the text “I do not desire to create unnecessary sensation about these very great storms,” is inspired by Anglican chant, starting in unison and moving on stressed syllables to non-tonal dissonances, clusters, and triads. In the final section, where the text suddenly becomes celestial, Purrington’s tonal language shifts, becoming more triadic and arpeggiated, with frequent mystical-sounding third relationships


between the triads, becoming more and more distant from its starting point: C major, C minor, A-flat major, F major/minor, D-flat major, G-flat major. Purrington ends the piece with a reiteration of the text “Look out for squalls,” with tonalities shifting between E-flat major and minor and the sopranos sliding on sustained pitches. The final moment of the piece is a cataclysmic-sounding eight-note chord that slides to a mixed majorminor chord, with the upper voices singing E-flat minor over E-flat major in the lower voices. Ultimately, the lower voices cut out, and we are left with E-flat minor.

Performance video: watch/?v=Rrc8ikURhuE

Hilary Purrington’s website:

Look out for squalls is most appropriate for an advanced choir. Aside from its final moments, it has minimal divisi, mostly for sopranos and basses. Rhythmically, Purrington frequently switches between duple and triple subdivisions. Her harmonic language never lingers in one place for too long, commonly bouncing between unisons, triads, clusters, and other non-triadic formulations. As a mezzo-soprano with significant choral singing experience herself, Purrington is highly attuned to the needs of singers regarding tonal reference points and preparations of dissonances and melodic leaps, making Squalls achievable and singable.

Look out for squalls was commissioned by the University of North Carolina Wilmington Chamber Choir, and premiered on April 24, 2022. Hilary Purrington holds degrees from the Yale School of Music, the Juilliard School, and Rice University. Recently, her choral-orchestral work, Words for departure , was premiered by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on a program with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Nathalie Stutzmann conducting.

Link to perusal score: purrington_look_out_for_squalls_perusal_score

O Guiding Night Roderick Williams (b. 1965)

SATB div., piano (c. 8:45’)

Text: English: St. John of the Cross (translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez)

Score available from Oxford University Press

Recording (extended version): O Guiding Night: The Spanish Mystics. The Sixteen, Harry Christophers. CORO, COR 16090. April 26, 2011. MP3 or compact disc.

Choral musicians working in the U.S. may be unfamiliar with the impressive musical achievements of Roderick Williams, though an important part of his work applies directly to our own field. Williams, a leading British baritone, enjoys a busy career singing on top opera stages around the world, in recital halls, and in performances of works by Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Elgar, among many others. But he also exemplifies multi-dimensionality as a musician, and his compositional output—largely of choral works—continues to grow. According to his website through Groves Artists, Williams will both sing and have a choral work performed at the Coronation Service of King Charles III in May 2023.


Williams’ choral pieces vary in difficulty and voicings and include arrangements of spirituals (Children, go where I send thee), carols (Coventry Carol ), and original works. His ethereal and otherworldly setting of the Advent O antiphon O Adonai is among his more challenging pieces, particularly given the highly exposed material for sopranos, but is deeply moving.

Commissioned by the UK’s Genesis Foundation for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, O Guiding Night sets an English translation of poetry by the 16th-century Spanish priest and mystic Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the Cross). The poem, the title of which is often translated as “The Dark Night of the Soul,” explores a transition from spiritual aloneness toward unification with the divine. The imagery of Juan’s poetry is both sacred and sensual, referencing God and the transitioning soul as a Lover and the beloved, respectively. An alternate, secular reading of the poem could imagine two human lovers being drawn to one another from afar.

to develop into the final section. Toward the end of the text, the speaker describes the moment of unification with God by saying “I abandoned and forgot myself…all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten.” Here, the piano writing seems to evaporate while the choral harmonies become especially piercing, even suggesting bitonality for a moment. The effect of returning from this nebulous harmony to C major in the final measures is a powerful musical reflection of the spiritual journey that has taken place.

O Guiding Night is through-composed and multisectional, as Williams sets different parts of the text to music of varying tempi and keys, often with piano interludes to connect. The piece begins with a striking piano introduction that suggests both the ecstatic end point of the soul’s journey and the mysterious process along the way. The choral writing to follow is hushed and rhythmic. In this section and throughout the piece, Williams makes thoughtful use of the choral ambitus: the more intimate parts of the piece feature closer harmony, and those passages that are more rapturous tend to explore wider spacing in chords and more extreme portions of the vocal range of sopranos and basses in particular.

The piece moves from C major to A major, Ab major, and back to C major. The third of these large-scale key areas includes one of the emotional and musical apexes of the work, and this material continues

O Guiding Night lies somewhere in the middle of Williams’ works with regard to level of difficulty. Most of the choral writing in the piece is homophonic, and the harmonic language is rooted in tonality with many colorful added nonchord tones. Williams’ vocal and piano writing is idiomatic, sensitive, and considerate of the needs of singers and players, but it still contains difficult passages, and tuning may be a challenge. The vocal writing is rhythmically vital and fits naturally with the word stresses of the translation, though the homophonic structure tends to expose any issues with ensemble. Finally, the dynamic and emotional ranges of all voice parts suggest a vocal approach that freely uses a variety of vocal timbres and colors.

Roderick Williams’ website (Groves Artists):

Alternate translation of “The Dark Night of the Soul” (Poetry Foundation, translated by David Lewis): poems/157984/the-dark-night-of-the-soul


Environmental Activism through Choral Music: John Luther Adams’s Canticles of the Holy Wind

“If we can imagine a culture and a society in which we each feel more deeply responsible for our own place in the world, then we just may be able to bring that culture and that society into being. This will largely be the work of people who will be here on this earth when I am gone. I place my faith in them.”

During the past several decades, there has been a growing trend to address social concerns through music. Composers have taken on such topics as racism, LGBTQ and women’s rights, gun violence, as well as other important social issues. One of the subgenres of this socially conscious repertoire is music that focuses on environmentalism and the growing anxiety regarding climate change. Composers are engaging with this topic in a variety of ways, but few North American composers have devoted themselves so thoroughly to this cause as John Luther Adams. Although the majority of his compositions are written for instrumental ensembles, Adams has also made several significant contributions to the choral genre, including Canticles of the Holy Wind (2013), a

tour de force for four SATB choirs. By examining the work of John Luther Adams, most specifically Canticles of the Holy Wind, this paper will provide an important example of how choral music and environmentalism intersect.1

1 Throughout this paper a variety of terminology will be enlisted to identify musical works that intersect with environmentalism, in this case defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the “concern with the preservation of the natural environment, esp. from damage caused by human influence.” This definition can have a broad interpretation, especially how this “concern” might be addressed in musical terms. In some environmental works, the composer has spelled out a specific relationship to a concept or purpose, but in other cases, the relationship between the music and its exact intention is ambiguous. Nonetheless, to establish some foundational language to classify these works, the term “environmental” will be used somewhat interchangeably with “ecological,” both words intending to describe music that intentionally highlights environmental issues or ecological relationships, either directly or indirectly.


The Field of Ecomusicology

The topic of environmental activism in the arts is a fairly new one, and the subgenre of environmentalism and choral music is an even less researched area. However, the emerging field of ecomusicology, defined as “the study of musical and sonic issues, both textual and performative, as they relate to ecology and the natural environment,” 2 is paving the way for growing research and resources in this area. Although a relatively new term, ecomusicology follows in the lineage of ecocriticism, although as Aaron Allen and other contemporaries might argue, ecomusicology is a more fluid field of study, one that resists a strict set of parameters.

Despite origins in literary and music studies, ecomusicology is more than just artistic inquiry. Ecomusicology is part of the movement to champion a more connected place for humanistic and post-humanistic scholarship, as the environmental humanities are doing. A bigger and more ideal goal is the fusion of disciplines—not just the collaboration or mutual citation, but the amalgamation of scientific, artistic, and humanistic disciplines…3

2 Aaron Allen, “Ecomusicology,” Oxford Music Online (July 25, 2013) https://www-oxfordmusiconline-com.proxy2.library.illinois. edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/ omo-9781561592630-e-1002240765?rskey=bULVY5. Note that there is disagreement among scholars about the term ecomusicology as it relates to the field of ethnomusicology. Mark Pedelty’s recent article addresses some of these concerns and makes a case for further development of this emerging genre of scholarship. See Mark Pedelty’s “Moving forward with Ecomusicology,” which is included in a collection of revised essays from the 2018 SEM Conference. Other articles include contributions from Timothy Cooley, Aaron S. Allen, Ruth Hellier, Mark Pedelty, Denise Von Glahn, Jeff Todd Titon, and Jennifer C. Post. “Call and Response: SEM President’s Roundtable 2018, ‘Humanities’ Responses to the Anthropocene’,” Ethnomusicology 64, no. 2 (2020): 301, accessed March 10, 2021, https://doi-org.

3 Aaron Allen, “Introduction” in Current Directions in Ecomusicology, 4.

It is also important to note that western music has had a long romance with nature. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons , Haydn’s The Seasons and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” are just a few examples of composers looking to depict nature in their music. In the twentieth century, composers like Messiaen continued his exploration of nature through the imitation of birdsong in pieces like Reveil des oiseaux and Le merle noir. Further twentieth-century nature explorations can be found in the use of field recordings and sitespecific pieces, as well as the important work by Harry Partch, Lou Harrison, La Monte Young, and John Cage, all of whom challenged the boundaries of music and listening.

In his 2011 article “Ecomusicology: Ecocritcism and Musicology,” Allen poses the question, “Is the environmental crisis relevant to music- and more importantly, is musicology relevant to solving it?” 4 Whether musicology is a part of the solution is yet to be seen; on the other hand, music performance may be a different question. Can the act of making music be a persuasive tool in effecting social change? A growing body of composers and performers in the choral field are engaging with repertoire that is poised to address this important question.5

4 Aaron Allen, “Ecomusicology: Ecocritcism and Musicology,” Journal of the American Musicological Society (Summer 2011): 392. 5 A cursory examination of America’s folk music history is instructive, as it provides context for the relationship between music and protest. As climate change became a growing reality during the twentieth-century, folk musicians such as Pete Seeger added environmental songs to a growing list of repertoire that addressed social issues, including civil rights, workers’ rights, and the Vietnam war. In the mid-1960s Seeger’s crusade to clean up the Hudson river through concerts and fundraisers set an example of how music might be used as a tool to support environmental activism. See Fred Brandfon’s “The History Boy: Innocence and History in the Life and Music of Pete Seeger,” The American Poetry Review 43, no. 5 (2014): 43–46, stable/24593774.


Singing and Activism

While an in-depth study of the sociology of choral singing is beyond the scope of this paper, it is important to at least acknowledge the concept of collective singing as an empowering force, specifically related to the performance of “activist” works. The power of music to unify groups of people has been of interest to sociologists since the early nineteenth-century.6 As the field of sociology has developed, the exploration of music’s role in society has remained a persistent area of interest, especially as it pertains to meaning and identity. From Theodor Adorno’s early scholarship on the sociology of music to the more recent research of feminist musicologist Susan McClary, the unrelenting mysteries surrounding music’s power have continued to captivate scholars and thinkers for centuries.

The power of music…resides in its ability to shape the ways we experience our bodies, emotions, subjectivities, desires, and social relations. And to study such effects demands that we recognize the ideological basis of music’s operationsits cultural constructedness. Even the urge to explain on the basis of idealist abstraction or to insist on an unbridgeable gap between music and the outside world stands in need of explanation, an explanation that would require a complex social history stretching back more than twenty-five centuries to Pythagoras.7

This immense history of music’s role in society is best digested in small doses through the study of specific phenomena, for instance, the way music

6 Shepherd and Devine, “Introduction” in Routledge Reader on Sociology of Music, 2–5. This introduction provides a concise history of how sociologists have studied music’s role in society. From August Comte who believed music is “the social of all arts,” to Herbert Spencer, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber, nineteenthcentury sociologists grappled with questions of music’s power, meaning, and significance.

7 Susan McClary, “Music as Social Meaning,” in The Routledge Reader, 82.

can support social resistance by affecting identity and behavior. One way this concept is manifested in singing is through “the way in which music vibrations penetrate the body, permeating it, even as the individual body contributes to the collective sound that envelops it.”8 William Roy describes a similar function in his book Reds, Whites, and Blues.

The social impact of music happens not only through a common understanding of it of the discourse around it but also through the experience of simultaneity. The mutual synchronizing of sonic and bodily experiences creates a bond that is precommunicative and perhaps deeper than shared conscious meaning. This can happen through the interaction of composers and performers, performers and performers, performers and listeners, and listeners and listeners. The more involved a person is in doing music, whether in composing, performing, or listening, the tighter the bond is.9

While music can have a significant impact on an audience, the participatory element is an important consideration. With the recent trend in choral music to program socially conscious repertoire, 10 it should be acknowledged that the impact is as profound (if not more) on the singers, as it is on the audience. This synergy and symbiosis is significant when considering the works of composers such as John Luther Adams, whose peaceful protest is played out with music and the earth as allies, quietly and covertly changing both the performer and listener.

9 Roy, Reds, Whites, and Blues, 16.

10 This growing trend can be observed in concert programming at conferences and in professional journals such as ACDA’s Choral Journal. In addition to recent issues that directly address diversity issues with regard to race and gender, several recent issues have also been devoted to choral music’s role in social advocacy movements. Issues of the Choral Journal can be reviewed here:

8 Eric Drott, “Resistance and Social Movements,” in The Routledge Reader, 176.

Born in Meridian, Mississippi in 1953, John Luther Adams has devoted his life to the preservation and celebration of the natural world. Adams moved around frequently as a child but spent the majority of his childhood in Georgia. As a teenager, he was exposed to the music of Frank Zappa, Edgard Varèse, John Coltrane, and John Cage, early experiences that opened up new sound worlds for the young and impressionable Adams.11 Eventually, Adams was admitted to the newly established California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), where he studied composition with James Tenney, whose teaching and music had a lasting effect on Adams.12 After just two years of study, Adams applied for early graduation and in 1973, he was one of the first students to earn their degree from Cal Arts.

Following graduation, Adams moved back to Georgia where he spent many hours outdoors taking walks in the forest and listening to birdsong. It is during this time he began to transcribe the sounds of the birdsong on his daily walks. Through ongoing work with the Audubon Society and Sierra Club, Adams developed a growing interest in conservation work. After a brief stay in Idaho, he eventually found his way to Alaska, where he began work with the Wilderness Society. Within a few years Adams had assumed the role of Executive Director with the Fairbanks Environmental Center.13

While in Fairbanks, Adams worked tirelessly on behalf of the Center, beginning with an expansion of the organization and a name change to Northern Alaska Environmental Center. With a mission dedicated to “preserving complete ecosystems and to creating a sustainable, postpetroleum society in Alaska,” Adams was at the helm of this newly expanded organization. With the support of biologists and geologists, the Environmental Center fought industry and regulations to protect Alaska’s pristine landscape and wildlife from degradation. In addition to battling the Reagan Administration’s plans for drilling, mining, and logging, the Center also fought against destructive state land sales, wildlife endangerment, and most impressively, the Alaska Power authority’s plan to build the world’s two largest dams.

Following a dark and difficult winter in 1989, Adams quit his job at the Center and committed his work to full-time composing. 14 Adams turned his energies to composing, leaving the environmental “day job” behind, but certainly not leaving the environment behind, “with the belief that, ultimately, music can do more than politics to change the world.”15 Over the past four decades he has explored ways to integrate his composition with the natural world, producing concepts such as sonic geography and ecological listening as techniques to reinforce this relationship.16

14 Adams shares the story of seeking advice from his mentor Lou Harrison. After being offered a half-time position at the Center, Adams called Lou for advice. Never one for beating around the bush, Lou answered, “There are no half-time jobs, John Luther. Only half-time salaries,” 91.

11 John Luther Adams, Silences So Deep, 8-12.

12 Adams mentions Tenney’s influence in a number of interviews and writings. In his interview with Gayle Young (“Sonic Geography of the Arctic” he specifically mentions Tenney’s music in which “a single large sonority, an apparently simple sounding image, slowly reveals an entire world of richness and complexity.” Although he is referring to his Strange and Sacred Noise in this statement, this model of sound is inherent in a number of Adam’s works.

13 Ibid., 18–22.

15 John Luther Adams, “In search of an ecology of music,” website, last accessed November 10, 2020, http://

16 Sabine Feisst, “Music as Place, Places as Music: The Sonic Geography of John Luther Adams” in The Farthest Place, 23–47. “Sonic geography” is a concept that explores “music as place,” a sense that music can evoke and enhance the experiential perception of place through music. Adams has also used the term “ecological listening” in several interviews and articles, in most cases referring to the interface of nature and musical performance in his outdoor works, but also as a more general concept for hearing and communing with nature in his works.


One of his first large-scale projects in the early nineties was Earth and the Great Weather: A Sonic Geography of the Arctic (1993). This large-scale work seems to serve as a transitional work in Adams’s output but also finds relationship to his choral repertoire through its geographic narrative and use of voices. Utilizing percussion, strings, electronics, twelve solo voices, and four speaking voices, Earth and the Great Weather is a dramatic work based on a series of “Arctic Litanies—found poems composed from indigenous names for places, plants, birds, and the seasons.”17 Other pieces from the early nineties include Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (1991–95) for chamber orchestra, Dream in White on White for strings (1992), and Time of Drumming for orchestra (1995).

These works were followed by Strange and Sacred Noises for percussion quartet (1991–97), Qilyuan for bass drums and electronics (1998), and In the White Silence (1998), a seventy-five-minute work for strings, celeste, harp, and two vibraphones. When Adams set out to compose this last work, he intended it to be “the biggest, most beautiful thing” he’d ever done, as well as a memorial to his mother. Ironically, there is no silence in this piece; however, the churning of the strings and mystical sound of the vibraphone creates an atmosphere of silent, crisp landscape, simultaneously meditative and active.

into a luxurious and mysterious landscape, where time is seemingly inaccessible.18 This marriage of intellectual operations and seductive swaths of sound is a signature of Adams’s music and remains a through-line in his “style.”

His chamber music encompasses a wide range of instrumentation, with a focus on music for percussion ensemble, string quartet, or a combination of percussion and strings together. A number of works from the nineties also include harp: Five Yup’ik Dances (1991–94), Five Athabascan Dances (1992/96), Make Prayers to the Raven (1996/98), and In a Treeless Place, Only Snow (1999).19 Between 2000-2010 Adams explored varied instrumentation, from solo piano works such as Nunataks (2007) to more complex textures in pieces like The Light Within (2007) for alto flute, bass clarinet, vibraphone/crotales, piano, violin, cello, and electronic sounds. Since 2011, many of his chamber pieces have been written for string quartet.

Perhaps his best-known works, Become River (2010), Become Ocean (2013), and Become Desert (2017), form a trilogy of orchestral works that are as diverse as the places they are meant to evoke. Each commissioned by major institutions (St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and Seattle/ New York Philharmonic respectively), these three works trace Adams’s trajectory from the West Coast’s “best-kept musical secret” to a composer of international renown.20 The second

Over the past twenty years and with growing recognition, Adams’s works have continued to explore the northern landscapes as well as other geography and ecological phenomena. For Lou Harrison (2003), which Adams considers the third installment in a trilogy that includes Clouds of Forgetting and In the White Silence , is an ode to one of Adams’s mentors. Like its companion pieces, for Lou coaxes the listener

18 See Kyle Gann’s chapter, “Time at the End of the World,” in The Farthest Place. In this essay, he explores this trilogy and uses analytical tools to unpack a few of Adams’ techniques, but also acknowledges that this music is both “rigorous in thought and sensuous in sound- but not on the same scale or in the same way.”

19 These five pieces show a progression from use of solo harp only in Five Yup’ik Dances to a more complex texture in In a Treeless Place, Only Snow for celesta, harp (or piano), 2 vibraphones, and string quartet.

20 Marc Swed, “Critic’s Notebook: Becoming John Luther Adams: The evolution of one of America’s hottest composers,” L.A. Times, May 3, 2018, classical/la-ca-cm-john-luther-adams-notebook-20180503-story. html. This profile piece on Adams and these three works offers a basic verbal introduction to this important trilogy.

17 Ibid., 93.

piece in the trilogy, Become Ocean was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in music and the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Among other awards he was also named Musical America’s 2015 “Composer of the Year.”

ecology, as well as an intimate journal outlining the creation of his most intricate work to date, a musical installation that registers the sounds of the earth through a complex system of math and music. Named after the installation itself, this text provides insight into the philosophical and technical process of creating a musical composition that derives its material from the earth, yet remains man-envisioned and man-made.

John Luther Adams’s writings encompass three published books, numerous articles, and interviews, as well as an occasional poem. Writing has been an important part of his creative process, with the intention “to articulate for myself my own evolving understanding of my work.”21 He is also interested in providing his listeners with an opportunity to discover “the broader context from which the music grows.”22

In his first published book, Winter Music: Composing the North, Adams shares a collection of music essays as well as journal entries and anecdotes about other aspects of his life. The net result is an inspiring portrait of how Adams synthesizes his work as a composer with his existence as a deeply caring human, someone interested in preserving the beauty and magnificence of the natural world. Each entry in this collection offers a glimpse at the experiences and ruminations that inspire Adams to write his music. In the second chapter “Resonance of Space” he writes at length about the relationship of people to place, a concept that remains central to his compositional priorities.

Adams’s second book The Place Where You Go to Listen: In Search of an Ecology of Music , is both an exploration of the concept of musical

xxi. 22 Ibid., xxi.

The Place resonates with nature. But this nature is filtered through my ears. For the listener I hope this music sounds and feels natural, as though it comes directly from the earth and the sky. Yet the decisions about timbres, tunings, harmonies, and melodic curves, the dynamics, rhythms, counterpoint, and musical textures were mine. Despite my desire to remove myself and invite the listener to occupy the central position, The Place is still a musical composition. Although I tried to minimize the evidence of my hand, I remain the composer.23

Although the above quote refers specifically to The Place, it might just as well apply to Adams’s approach to composition in general: to empower the listener to encounter nature through the sensuous experience of sound.

Adams’s most recent book, Silences So Deep was released in 2020 and serves as an autobiographical account of his several decades in Alaska. Through his authentic and gentle style, Adams manages to share basic details about his life as a musician and environmental activist in Alaska, while simultaneously evoking a sense of poetry and nature throughout the book. Because Adams’s life is so integrated with his composing, every page seems to offer new insight into his

John Luther Adams: Literary Contributions 21 John Luther Adams, Winter Music: Composing the North, 23 John Luther Adams, The Place Where You Go to Listen, 8.

music. In an especially helpful appendix titled “Sources,” he catalogs his major inspirations and influences, including books, composers, musical genres, and even specific birds.24

Ultimately, the background of Adams has led him down a path that integrates a love and concern for the environment with the desire to communicate ideas through music. The choral works of Adams illustrate this concept through imaginative soundscapes that cover vast terrain. Adams has only written a few works for chorus, but each is imbued with a singularity that is enhanced by the rarity of choral works in his output. Adams’s approach to his composition is deeply affected by his commitment to the well-being of the earth.

As an artist, I see myself as a worker for a culture I will never live to inhabit, in a society that may never come to be. And I know that I’m not alone. All over the world, there are artists and scientists, teachers and activists, people in every field of labor who, in their own ways, are working with the belief that the only possible future for our human species is to discover a new way of being on this earth. Together and alone, we are doing our best to imagine and to create new cultures and new societies to come after the inevitable collapse of the global monoculture that

24 These lists are a valuable resource for understanding Adams’s music.

Writers: Henry David Thoreau, John Haines, Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Paul Shepard, Richard Nelson, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Lou Harrison

Birds: wood thrush, hermit thrush, canyon wren

World Music: Japan, Java, Bali, Tibet, Africa, and indigenous music of Alaska

European Composers: Ockeghem, Monteverdi, Bach, Debussy, Sibelius, Xenakis, Radigue

American Composers: Ives, Varèse, Cowell, Crawford-Seeger, Rudhyar, Partch, Cage, Harrison, Nancarrow, Feldman, Oliveros, Tenney, and other contemporaries

is driving us toward oblivion. We are working as if our survival depended on it, because, very likely, it does.

Music is my way of understanding the world, of knowing where I am and how I fit in. This isn’t just an emotional, a psychological need. It’s a spiritual hunger —a search for the sacred.25

Adams’s choral works are less known, in part because there are only a few of them, but also due to their technical demands. Night Peace (1976) and Forest without Leaves (1984), both written for chorus and instruments are his two early choral works and are the most accessible of his output. After a twenty-five-year gap, Canticles of the Sky was composers for the Latvian choir Kamer, eventually being incorporated into Canticles of the Holy Wind five years later. Composed for four advanced SATB choirs, these two works are much different in scope compared to Night Peace and Forest. In the Name of the Earth finds its challenge by the sheer scope of the piece, which requires a massed choir of many singers to be assembled in an outside venue. Adams has also recently completed a new work for small vocal ensemble, A Brief Descent into Deep Time, a twenty-minute work which traces the two-billion-year geological transformation of the Grand Canyon.26 Given that the performing forces of A Brief Descent are in contrast to the massed choir of In the Name as well as the 32-voice chamber choir required of Canticles , this latest work will certainly yield yet another expression of Adams’s sensitive and specific response to his diverse mediums. (See table 1 for chronological listing of these works.)

25 John Luther Adams, “In the Name of the Earth,” website, last accessed February 10, 2021

26 This information was disclosed via an e-mail update from John Luther Adams and confirmed by e-mail correspondence with Paul Hillier, who premiered the work in February of 2022. Further communication between the composer and author revealed that A Brief Descent into Deep Time is the basis for a new, large-scale work, Vespers of the Blessed Earth, which will be premiered by The Crossing and The Philadelphia Orchestra in Spring, 2023.


Table 1: Environmental choral works of John Luther Adams

Composed just a few years after his graduation from Cal Arts, Night Peace was commissioned by the Atlanta Singers, with Joanne Falletta conducting the premiere. On the title page Adams shares insight on his motivic material: “Night Peace is based entirely on a single melodic line, which is heard only once. This melody was conceived in the luminous stillness of a moonless winter night.” This brief motive (F-sharp–A–B–A) is varied throughout the piece and can be found in

melodic fragments and harmonic sonorities (see fig. 1). The score calls for percussion (timpani, marimba, vibraphone, cymbals, tam-tam, glass chimes, and sea urchin wind chimes) and harp, as well as two antiphonal choirs. There is no text for the chorus, but Adams instructs the singers to phonate without vibrato on a “round, open ‘ah’ as in father.” He also specifies that each choir should have 12–24 singers.

Title Date Duration Voicing Difficulty Night Peace 1976 15:00 SATB Medium Forest without Leaves 1984 25:00 SATB Medium Canticles of the Sky 2008 20:00 SATB Advanced Canticles of the Holy Wind 2013 75:00 SATB Advanced In the Name of the Earth 2017 45:00 SATB Easy- Advanced A Brief Descent into Deep Time 2021 20:00 SATB Advanced
Figure 1: Adams, Night Peace, mm. 32–35

Forest without Leaves , which is currently in revision 27 has deep personal meaning for Adams. Written in response to a new cycle of poems by John Haines, a long-time close friend, colleague, and environmental poet, this work was a landmark in Adams’s future trajectory.

Working closely with John Haines encouraged me to think more deeply about what it meant to be an artist in the Far North, giving me the temerity to entertain artistic aspirations to match the landscapes of Alaska.28

A cantata for choir, vocal soloists, and chamber orchestra, Forest without Leaves is quite different from Night Peace. For one, it has a text, or more precisely, sixteen texts.29 It is clear that Adams developed a deep respect for setting poetry during this process, as he strove to be true to natural word accent and rhetoric.

Any composer who sets out to add tones to a text of integrity faces a formidable challenge. As language, the words are complete in and of themselves. Yet when they are spoken, they cry out for the added resonance of singing voices and instruments. The composer’s challenge, then, is to enhance that inherent music without impairing the imagery or meanings of the words. This demands a serious obligation of fidelity to words not only as sound, but as language.30

27 John Luther Adams, conversation.

28 Adams, Silences, 68.

29 The sixteen cantata movements: In the forest without leaves, What sounds can be heard in a forest without leaves, This earth written over with words, One rock on another-that makes a wall, Earth, black speech, And sometimes through the air a cone of dust, (Interlude I), Say after me, Those who write sorrow on the earth, Building with matches, This earth is written over with words, Life was not a clock, (Interlude II), How the sun came to the forest, In all the forest-chilled by its spent wealth, What will be said of you- tree of life, A coolness will come to their children, and In the forest without leaves.

30 Adams, Silences, 64.

The texts of Forest without Leaves are “unabashedly ecocentric” and culminate in a post-apocalyptic nuclear winter scene in the penultimate movement, “A coolness will come to their children.” However, the content of the final poem ends on a hopeful note: “Let earth be this windfall swept to a handful of seeds—one tree, one leaf, gives us plenty of light.”

A mixture of both tonal and atonal material, the music traverses a wide range of textures and harmonic content. His other choral works tend to use vowels or single word litanies rather than entire texts, which also sets this piece apart from the rest. Forest without Leaves is unlike any of Adams’s other choral writing and therefore holds a unique place in his output.

Premiered in 2018 at the Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival, In the Name of the Earth is a deeply spiritual work designed to “draw music not only from my own imagination but also from the older, deeper music of this continent.”31 A much different piece than Forest without Leaves, In the Name calls for four choirs and a variety of sound instruments, including rubbed stones, rattles, and small bells. In his preface to the score Adams eloquently explains the concept for the piece:

The texts of the work are litanies of names—the names of mountain peaks and ranges, rivers and glaciers, forests and plains and deserts—in English and Spanish, and older indigenous names that resonate like words spoken by the earth itself.

By singing some of the beautifully resonant names that we give to mountains, deserts, rivers and oceans, I hope to draw music not only from my own imagination but

31 “John Luther Adams,” website, last accessed November 10, 2020,

also more directly from the earth itself. The title of this work is a conscious reference to Christian liturgy. But in place of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I want to invoke the roots of my own faith—in the Earth, the Waters, and the Holy Wind.

This idea of “sonic geography” is central to Adams’s work over the last thirty years and is a pervasive philosophy that, rather than composing music only about place, it is possible to compose with a sense of music as place.32

In the Name of the Earth utilizes four SATB choruses in eight-part divisi, each representing a different compass point landscape in North America: North, South, East, West. Each of the choruses is also called upon to play the small percussion instruments and create the spoken sound effects, but according to Simon Halsey who premiered the work and Adams himself, these unsung parts can also be performed by amateurs, children, or non-musicians.33 All participants also join in singing the large canon that appears in the final section of the work (see fig. 2). The two main performances of this work to date, New York and London, have each included approximately 600 singers, and although the piece is intended to be performed outside, both of these performances took place indoors due to restrictions.

John Luther Adams: Canticles of the Holy Wind


Completed in 2017, Canticles of the Holy Wind consists of fourteen movements and ruminates on three interrelated subjects: wind, sky, and birds.

I. Sky with Four Suns

II. The White Wind

III. Dream of the Hermit Thrush

IV. Sky with Four Moons

V. The Singing Tree

VI. The Blue Wind

VII. The Hour of the Doves

VIII. Sky with Nameless Colors

IX. Cadenza of the Mockingbird

X. The Yellow Wind

XI. Dream of the Canyon Wren

XII. Sky with Endless Stars

XIII. The Hour of the Owls

XIV. The Dark Wind

The liner notes to the 2017 recording do not contain program notes per se, but Adams does provide an illuminating statement on the piece, a sentiment that may very well summarize his overall work as a composer.

32 Gayle Young, “Sonic Geography of the Arctic,” interview on composer’s website. Young’s interview with Adams provides a brief snapshot at the evolution of his music over the past forty years. This idea is also related to the earlier discussion of how we define nature. In Adam’s concept of “sonic geography,” the music and so-called “nature” are not separate entities, but one and the same, very much in the vein of the Sami joiking, previously referenced in Tina Ramnarine’s article on this practice.

33 Simon Halsey, “In the Name of the Earth,” YouTube, accessed February 8, 2021, watch?v=VTu_1Hi4drU and John Luther Adams interview.

Throughout my life, I’ve clung to hope for the future of our species. But amid the gathering darkness of our own making—global warming, terrorism and seemingly unending wars, widespread social and economic injustice, rampant greed and environmental destruction, resurgent racism and rising fascism— it’s increasingly difficult to maintain unmitigated faith in humanity. And I find myself reimagining hope.

I don’t look for answers in political ideology, humanistic philosophy, or religious dogma. Instead I place my faith

(Figure 2 shown on next page.)
Figure 2: Adams, In the Name of the Earth, upper three choirs in canon at 43:30

in the land and the skies, the wind and the birds—in what we call “nature”. And I take comfort in a larger vision of the earth and the universe, and my own small place in this beautifully fleeting moment within the endlessly turbulent and sublime music of creation.34

Four of these movements had previously been composed as Canticles of the Sky and were completed in 2008, along with versions for string quartet and cello choir.35 The extended work was commissioned by the professional choir, The Crossing and the Latvian choir, Kamer, resulting in a technical tour de force, requiring four distinct SATB choirs for eight of the movements, as well as vocal soloists. At its New York premiere at the Met in 2016, critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim describes her sonic experience:

[A] hypnotic and ethereally beautiful invocation of wind, sky and birdsong… Adams’s “Canticles” seems to achieve a new symbiosis, folding natural sounds into mathematically ordered patterns. The resulting music combines the pristine freshness of nature with the sheltering symmetries of Gothic architecture.36

This is music that requires patience, stillness, and above all deep listening. The division of movements into sky, wind, and birds creates a varied and vivid tapestry that also carries the listener through distinct spaces and habitats, as it “hovers, soars, echoes, and chirps.”37

Structural Overview

Exploring an Adams score can be likened to a biologist unraveling the mysteries of a beautiful organism in nature: the dissection reveals new data, but it does not fully explain the totality of its existence. Alex Ross eloquently describes this phenomenon in his introduction to The Place Where You Go to Listen.

The music of Adams is simply and logically constructed, but operates on such a vast scale that we don’t experience it as simple or logical. At a given moment an Adams piece presents us with an image of eternity: an unchanging sonority, or a complex of repeating out-of-tempo ostinatos. Changes of texture and sonority come, but we cannot hear them coming nor predict their arrival. The pattern of changes makes logical sense to one who analyzes the score, and thus views the music, as it were, from a bird’seye view; but the listener, close to the music’s surface—like a hiker working her way across Adams’s beloved Alaskan landscape—must submit to the vastness, the unknowability, the richness of the textures and patterns, the accidental coincidences of large-scale process. Still, there are clues embedded in the music that mark the trajectory of that process, and the well-informed listener is like a hiker with a road map in his head, and who occasionally glimpses a landmark.38

34 John Luther Adams, Canticles of the Holy Wind liner notes, 2017.

35 Adams, interview by author, November 5, 2020.

36 Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, review of Canticles of the Holy Wind in concert at the Met, New York Times, October 30, 2016, html.

37 Donald Nally, program notes from Canticles of the Holy Wind, privately shared.

The four sky movements, which were composed first and finished as a complete set, share a textural uniformity that creates a backdrop for the rest of the larger work. After all, wind and birds inhabit the sky, so it is fitting that the omnipresent expanse of the sky serves as the structural setting

38 Alex Ross, “Introduction” in The Place Where You Go to Listen (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009), 4.

of the piece. Canticles of the Sky has also been arranged for other instrumental configurations, including string quartet and cello ensemble, and given that these movements are sung on an “ah” vowel throughout, the translation to instruments is fitting. These four movements also generate distinct times of day: “Sky with Four Suns,” “Sky with Four Moons,” “Sky with Nameless Color,” and “Sky with Endless Stars.” The trajectory from day to night is suggested not just by the titles but also in the gently shifting colors that take place over the course of the four movements. The soaring expanse captured by each of these four movements is awe-inspiring and at times even overwhelming, not unlike the feelings that might very well overtake one during a mindful encounter in nature.

and employing calculations to create giant structures in which perfection and inevitability are inseparable. 39

The math is clearly outlined in the first movement, “Sky with Four Suns,” whose structure is based on the interval of a fifth and the relationship between I and V. The symmetry of this movement is also an important structural feature, a shape that creates a natural slope over the course of the piece. The four SATB choruses share the same melodic material in a quasi-canonic structure, but the length of notes is varied between the parts, giving the texture an organic irregularity (see fig. 3). The note lengths which vary from fifteen beats to six beats and remain uniform for the voice parts within each chorus. The values are assigned as such: Chorus One, fifteen beats; Chorus Two, twelve beats; Chorus Three, nine beats; Chorus Four, six beats.

The spacious texture that Adams uses is a thoughtful balance between math and spiritual intuition, technique and inspiration working in tandem to reveal an immense force at work. On the page, these four movements look very similar: long, tied whole and half notes, spacious voicing, and deliberate attention to dynamic shape. These salient musical features interface with a distinct transcendence, a synergistic relationship that evokes great beauty. Donald Nally writes eloquently about this relationship in his program notes:

Part of that beauty comes from John’s creative process, which involves a lot of math. Of course, we know that all of nature can be described mathematically; it’s largely figuring out these infinitely complex systems that is what we call science… In Canticles, John has found a way to do that, to express the great beauty of the outdoors indoors, by employing some pretty spectacular arithmetic. You don’t hear the math, but it’s there, rooted in canonic techniques that remind us of early Renaissance music, like Josquin,

The relationship between V and I can be easily observed by looking at the bass 2 part in choir one, which is imitated in the other three choirs as well: D to G, C to F, B-flat to E-flat to B-flat (center point climax), F to C, G to D. Building upwards from these structural bass notes, the other voices fill out a series of four-note sonorities: D–A–E–B, G–D–A–E / C–G–D–A, F–C–G–D / B-flat–F–C–G /E-flat–Bflat–F–C, followed by the inverted tetrachords after the peak. The spaciousness of the open fifths with the overlapping sonorities, combined with the vocal climb from the opening low D in the bass to the high C6 in the soprano parts at the climax, arouses a euphoric sense of a sky filled with the most amazing sunlight. Short of viewing such a sight, this experience allows the listener to bathe in the sound of four suns in the sky.40

39 Nally, program notes.

(Figure 3 shown on next page.) 40 Adams, interview by author. During our interview, John explained that he had experienced that mirage walking on the Arctic coast, near Utqiagvik.
Figure 3. Adams, “Sky with Four Suns,” mm. 17–24

The other three sky movements bear a strong resemblance to “Sky with Four Suns” and the compositional approach utilizes similar methods. However, the net effect is one of a very different sky- still sky, but altered by the passing hours. Where “Sky with Four Suns” begins with a rumbling low D in the basses, “Sky with Four Moons” begins on a high B5 in the soprano in Chorus Four, followed by descending fourths in the other vocal parts. The quality of the fourths are mostly perfect throughout the movement, with the exception of the G-natural in the Alto 2 part in Chorus One and Two (see fig. 4). This tri-tone relationship the C-sharp sticks out of the texture and adds a degree of mystery to the texture, perhaps a night sky more dimly lit than the “Fours Suns” sky, radiant and open with the perfect fifth sonority. Eventually, the fourths give way to fifths, leading to a muted middle section with the voices singing in their lower registers. This movement also follows a similar symmetrical pattern in that the voices retreat from the midpoint by singing through the patterns in reverse order.

While similar in style to the other sky movements, “Sky with Nameless Color” follows a slightly more complicated structure than the first and fourth movements. The first notable difference is the use of triads as opposed to open intervals. The resonance of these major chords adds additional color to the texture, although the long note values ensure that the expanse of the skyline is not lost. This movement also differs in the ways the four choirs interact. While Choirs One and Two both spin out a longer circle-offifths sequence (B-flat major, F major, C major, G major, D major, A major, E major), Chorus Three and Four only employ a G major, D major, A major, E major sequence. This movement is also striking for its luminous suspensions that occur at the peak of the movement, culminating in an E major chord in the upper voices (see fig. 5). Although this chord is never fully sounded without an extra non-chord tone lingering, the power of the arrival is impactful.

(Figure 5 shown on next page.) Figure 4. Adams, “Sky with Four Moons,” mm. 19–24
Figure 5. “Sky with Nameless Color,” mm. 25–33

The final sky movement, “Sky with Endless Stars,” finds its unique color by use of minor triadic sonorities. This movement also begins with a high soprano note, this time on an A-flat5, the third of an f-minor chord. The harmonic progression follows the same pattern as “Sky with Nameless Color” with a circle-of-fifths pattern for the most part, (f minor–b minor–d-sharp minor–gsharp minor–c-sharp minor–f-sharp minor–b minor) with two of the choirs being relegated to a repeating pattern of g-sharp minor–c-sharp minor–f-sharp minor–b minor. The arrival at b minor is heralded by low fortissimo singing in the ATB voices, a striking moment that has a sense of inevitability (see fig. 6).

The four wind movements are titled according to colors: “The White Wind,” “The Blue Wind,” “The Yellow Wind,” and “The Dark Wind.” Constructed with a unified approach to form, these movements continue to use imitation as an important structural element, although the texture is much more varied between the SATB voices via rhythmic distinctions. Whereas the four sky movements rely on the stillness generated by long notes and slowly unfolding melodic and harmonic shape, the four wind movements are unified by the use complex rhythmic motives that suggest the fickle fluctuation of the wind. The harmonic progressions still follow a symmetrical circle-of-fifths format with D as the tonal center, with slight variations between the movements. Given the more complex rhythms found in these movements a chart of the similarities and differences will best clarify the character of each of these movements (see table 2).

(Figure 6 shown on next page.)
WHITE BLUE YELLOW DARK Tonal Material Major Major Minor Minor Ascending Descending Descending Ascending Vowels Ah eh ii Ah oh oo Ah eh ii Ah oh oo Eighth-notes Tenor Tenor Alto Alto Septuplets Bass Alto Tenor Soprano Nonuplets Alto Bass Soprano Tenor Decuplets Soprano Soprano Bass Bass
2: Musical characteristics in wind movements of Canticles
Figure 6. “Sky with Endless Stars,” mm. 29–33

The flow created by these rhythmic motives, combined with the triadic structures and tonal inflections, generates a series of four corresponding windscapes. At the same time, each of the four winds takes on a nuanced character, supported by the assigned voicing, harmonic color, range, and dynamics. These movements are especially striking in contrast

to the stillness of the sky movements, one set enlivened by gusts of rhythmic energy, and the other content in placid stillness. Once all of the voices have entered the perpetual motion of the rhythmic figures couples with a gradual rise in tessitura in all voices, creating an overall arch shape to the movement (see fig. 7).

Figure 7. “The White Wind,” mm. 33–37

If the sky and the wind are the two leads in this landscape story, then the bird movements serve as supporting roles, adding interest, character, and depth to the larger narrative. In the preface to the work, Adams shares a personal note on his relationship to birdsong.

My life’s work began with birds. Almost forty years later, I’ve returned to bird songs as a source for my music. In the past I’ve utilized piccolos, percussion and other instruments to evoke the music of birds. Now I find myself translating the songs of birds into music for human voices, singing these strange languages that we do not speak and may never understand.

By and large, the six bird movements are written for solo voices, with the exception of “The Hour of the Owls,” which calls for all tenors and basses to sing. Also notable is that these movements ask for the singers to play percussion instruments while moving about the performance space.41

The first of the bird movements, “Dream of the Hermit Thrush” calls for a solo SSAATTBB octet and orchestra bells. The timbre of the bells with the calling back and forth between the voices sets up a playful mood, while the overlapping sustained sounds suggest a dreamy setting. The melodic figures and resulting harmony is diatonic, with a structural emphasis of a minor, G Major, and C Major. The rhythmic stratification between the voices and bells is defined by the triplet melodic figures in augmentation and diminution, with the fastest rhythm found in the bells (see fig. 8).

(Figure 8 shown on next page.)

41 In the preface of the score, Adams suggested that while the triangles in “The Singing Tree” should be played by the singers, the percussion instruments in the other movements can be played by a professional percussionist, if preferred.

“The Singing Tree” is set for four solo sopranos and four solo altos, each also playing a triangle. The jaunty motives combined with the burble of the triangle produce a pleasant respite, a welcome oasis of earthly joy amidst the awesome expanse of the sun and sky movements. The bird calls are varied, occasionally imitating one another, but also contributing new sounds to the conversation. The repetitive patterns have a minimalist quality that is transfixing.

Just as captivating, “The Hour of the Doves” is also voiced for eight treble singers, with the soprano choir grouped in motivic unity and the altos carrying accompanying harmonic support. The sound of the dove is clearly heard in the soprano motive which is distinguished by a snappy dotted rhythm in 3/8 time, further emphasized by the specific articulation markings, which give the motive further shape (see fig. 9). This dove call is imitated in the remaining three soprano voices, sometimes with exact pitches and sometimes down a half step. The intervals between the entrances are not consistent, contributing an organic sensibility to the bird calls. The altos underpin these upper dialogues by providing more sustained harmonic counterpoint, creating a mesmerizing effect.

“Cadenza of the Mockingbird” is the most complicated of the bird movements. Written for four soprano voices, bells, maracas, and woodblock, this movement portrays the sassy calls of mockingbirds through the diverse motives, irregular mixed meter, varied syllabification, detailed articulation, and colorful percussion. The addition of grace notes, which accompany several of the motives, also adds to the unique call of the mockingbird. Harmonically speaking the different calls do not relate to one another, giving this movement a sense of mischievous fun through its atonal meanderings.

(Figure 9 shown on page 42.)
Figure 8. “Dream of the Hermit Thrush,” mm. 23–27

Picturesque in its hazy and cavernous setting, “Dream of the Canyon Wren” is scored for four sopranos and four solo altos with bells. There are two related motivic ideas that together conjure up an accurate sonic portrait of the title. The first motive is a series of descending thirds first introduced in eighth-notes, but eventually heard in a variety of rhythms, ranges, and voices. The complementary motive is often written in slower note values and consists of a descending scale of half steps that span a minor ninth. The effect is almost surreal between the overlapping parts and slowly descending figures, but the reverie is

interrupted midway through when the orchestra bells enter with an unaccompanied solo based on the descending third figure (see fig. 10). The clarity of this call is conspicuous, as it distinctly outlines the call of the wren without the canyon echo. The high tessitura of the bells almost suggests that the bird is flying up above the canyon, unaffected by the resonant echo. When the choir enters again the entrances which were introduced in the first section are rearranged and loosely appear in reverse order by phrase. As the last two low alto notes die away near the end the bells enter for one last declamatory call.

Figure 9. “The Hour of the Dove,” mm. 65–72 Figure 10. “Dream of the Canyon Wren,” mm. 43–47

Sandwiched between “Sky with Endless Stars” and “The Dark Wind,” “The Hour of the Owls” provides an eerie addition to this final night section. The four choirs return, but only using the tenors and basses for an eight-part choral texture, along with four male soloists. The choral parts sustain long chromatic lines that slowly rise up from the opening low E-sharp in the bass. At first these long, tied whole notes are in pairs making gentle tension and release, but as the other voices enter the dissonances become more prominent, resulting in a thicker and thornier texture. On top of this blanket of harmony, the four soloists enter with their owl hoots, tentative and sparse, with each voice claiming its own tonal material: bass one B–C–B; bass three G-sharp–A–G-sharp; bass two E-sharp–F-sharp–E-sharp. The bass one part is different from the other three, with a higher pitched call and faster rhythm, much more like the call of a female owl. Ultimately it is the individual hoot that dominates the final section of this movement, eventually merging with the choral parts on a unison middle C for the final six measures of singing.

Performance Considerations

In preparing and conducting Canticles of the Holy Wind , the technical challenges can be identified per movement type: sky, wind, and bird. Because the movements in these groups consist of similar compositional approaches, the musical considerations are related to one another. As a starting point, it will be helpful to recognize that performing this entire piece requires a choir with skill and stamina, most likely a professional choir or advanced collegiate chorus. Because of the sustained a cappella texture, re-pitching the chorus between movements might also be necessary. Because the four choirs are meant to be spaced apart from one another and soloists are asked to move around the space, venue selection will also need to be a consideration. Adams has suggested the selections from the larger work

could be performed separately,42 so viewing the work in this way might make it more accessible to other choirs.

The sky movements are perhaps the most difficult sections of the work and require sopranos, altos, and tenors with skillful upper ranges and basses with solid low notes. “Sky with Four Suns” begins on a low D in all four bass parts, with the highest note of E-flat being reached at the climax of the piece. This two-octave-plus range coupled with the need for dynamic and vocal control is a rare find in bass singers. Likewise, the range for sopranos also poses a challenge, with the sustained high Cs and B-flats. Altos and tenors are also asked to sing at the extremes of their ranges, with altos peaking on F and tenors gliding all the way to high B-flats. Similar issues present in “Sky with Four Moons,” “Sky with Nameless Color,” and “Sky with Endless Stars,” although these three movements pose slightly less range extremes than movement one. Table four lists the ranges of these four movements, showing the trajectory from the brightness of the most extreme range in “Sky with Four Suns” to the most compact range in “Sky with Endless Stars.” (See table 4.)

In conjunction with the range issue, intonation also poses a challenge for these movements, given the long note values and extreme ranges.43 How wide to tune the many fifths and where to place the thirds is a decision that should come into consideration, especially if the singers can be trained to think harmonically about their function. Dynamic markings need to be regulated to accommodate ranges and balance between the voices, and the imitative texture between the four choirs requires further balancing.

42 Adams, interview with author.

43 During my interview with Donald Nally, he disclosed that these movements were the most difficult for these reasons and therefore challenging to record.

(Table 4 shown on next page.)

The four wind movements find their difficulty in the complicated rhythms that appear in each movement. Written in cut time with quarter=112, these four movements depend on the singers to feel these complex rhythms within their section and across the other choirs. This process is further complicated by the additional rhythmic intricacies of the other voice parts. The goal is to feel the irregular gusts of wind inherent in the different rhythms, but not to be consumed by the pedantic exactness of the rhythm. Ultimately, it is the gesture that emerges from the septuplet, nonuplet and decuplet that create these contrasting bursts of wind.44 The voice with the eighth-notes (refer to table 3) is especially important in establishing an aural structure, against which the other voices can place their rhythms. The conductor will serve the ensemble best by keeping the tactus and cuing major entrances, but should take care to not interfere with the organic flow of the rhythmic patterns.

With rapidly moving passages and mostly diatonic material, tuning is also an issue in these movements, although the challenge arises because of vocal agility issues, as opposed to the range issues encountered in the sky movements. Solidifying tuning between the voices will be dependent on matching vowels and locking into the diatonic patterns, as they cycle through the circle-of-fifths. Rehearsing these passages slowly and tuning against the sustained pitches will help to solidify the intervals, and rearranging the scale material to create a unified exercise for the four voice parts will be a great benefit. Each of the four movements contains specific scale degrees, and although the pitches are sung in varied patterns, hearing the melodic material in relation to the tonic will ensure that all sections are following the same tuning plan. (Table 5 lists the melodic material for all four wind movements.)

44 Donald Nally also suggests that these rhythms are best accomplished through feeling the gesture together, as opposed to an exacting calculation of the notated rhythm.

(Table 5 shown on next page.)
Sky with Four
E4-C6 B3-F5 E3-Bb4 D2-Eb4 Sky with Four Moons C4-B5 F3-C#5 C3-F#4 D2-B3 Sky
Color E4-B5 A3-E5 D3-F#4 G2-B3 Sky
E4-Ab5 A3-C5 D3-F#4 F#2-B3
Table 4. Vocal ranges of sky movements in Canticles Alto Tenor Bass
with Nameless
with Endless Stars

Provided soloists are well-chosen, the bird movements are less problematic overall. Coordination with the percussion and the singer movements are two new issues that arise in these movements, but the vocal parts are manageable and less complicated than the choral sections.

With the addition of orchestra bells, “Dream of the Hermit Thrush” relies on the singers to adjust their tuning to the bells, keeping in mind that the overtones produced from this instrument can be misleading. Rhythmically speaking, this movement should be conducted in a four pattern, with the understanding that the bass 1 part proceeds in a broad 3/2 pattern for the entirety of the piece. The triadic sonorities can be easily balanced between the eight solo voices if singers are conscious of the root of each chord and place the fifth and third accordingly.

“The Singing Tree” has much more independence between the eight solo voices and therefore is more dependent on the character of each voice. Because there are more articulation markings to interpret, decisions regarding parity between the voices is an issue to consider, as is the timbre of the soloists. Another concern is the

volume of the eight triangles and whether the singers will have difficulty hearing above the din of the triangle (see fig. 11). Movement nine, “Cadenza of the Mockingbird,” shares similar performance concerns, with the four solo sopranos communicating with a variety of bird calls, each requiring a different characterization. The bells, maracas, and woodblock thicken the texture and require rhythmic coordination with the singers, whose bird motives are intertwined with the percussion in this movement.

(Figure 11 shown on next page.)

With the imitative and sparse texture, “The Hour of the Doves” calls for eight evenly-matched voices, preferably with no vibrato and slender tone. Because the voices move in and out of unison singing and close dissonance, uniformity of sound is paramount in this movement. Likewise, “Dream of the Canyon Wren” is dependent on uniform singing that can blend and balance as the echoes resound in the canyon. In this latter movement, it is necessary to maintain the pitch in the choral sections, since the bell cadenzas repeat the same material at the same pitch level.

Movement Scale Degrees The White Wind 1,2,3,5,7 (Major) The Blue Wind 1,3,4,5,6 (Major) The Yellow Wind 1,2,3,5,7 (Natural Minor) The Dark Wind 1,3,4,5,6 (Natural Minor)
Table 5. Melodic material of Canticles wind movements
Figure 11. Adams, “The Singing Tree,” mm. 62-66

“The Hour of the Owls” finds its challenge in the long softly sustained notes of the choral parts, which are highly exposed in the spacious texture (see fig. 12). The singers will need to carefully plan their staggered breaths, so that the seamless carpet of sound can be maintained. The bass soloists who punctuate the texture with their rhythmic calls are given the difficult task of finding their pitches from the muted pitches of the lower voices. The solo tenor voice also needs to find its way into the texture and maintain consistency between the seven individual entrances.

The Oxford Dictionary defines activism as “the use of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” 45 Can the performance of a powerful piece of music be described as “vigorous campaigning?” Does music have the potency to bring about “social change?” And, to reiterate Aaron Allen’s earlier question, “Is the environmental crisis [even] relevant to music?” If we believe in the capacity of music to stir passion and arouse the spirit, then these answers must assuredly be a resounding yes! Certainly, John Luther Adams believes music is relevant to the cause:

When performed in its entirety, Canticles of the Holy Wind is a force of nature, metaphorically and literally. The contrasts between the sky, wind, and bird movements generate a vivid and spacious tapestry of color and sound, simultaneously transcendent and grounded. The technical means by which Adams invites us into these spaces create a new perspective on nature, one that is experienced through the sensuous encounter with sound. Ultimately, Canticles of the Holy Wind offers an opportunity to hear nature through the ears, imagination, and soul of a brilliant and skilled composer.


The work of John Luther Adams represents an ethos at large, musicians striving to make a difference by strengthening the listener’s relationship to the earth and all that lay therein. His work represents a growing trend in the field of music to explore environmental issues through the lens of music. Adams does not discuss his music as “political” or even “activist;” however, it is evident that he intends for his music to effect positive change in the world with respect to the environment.

The central truth of ecology is that everything in this world is connected to everything else. The great challenge now facing the human species is to live by this truth. We must reintegrate our fragmented consciousness and learn to live in harmony with the larger patterns of life on earth, or we risk our own extinction.

As a composer, it is my belief that music can contribute to the awakening of our ecological understanding. By deepening our awareness of our connections to the earth, music can provide a sounding model for the renewal of human consciousness and culture. Over the years this belief has led me from music inspired by the songs of birds, to landscape painting with tones, to elemental noise and beyond, in search of an ecology of music.46

In the field of choral music, composers, conductors, and choirs are searching for ways to engage with important social concerns through meaningful repertoire choices. The expanding awareness of climate change and other environmental plights is finding creative

45 Oxford Dictionary, s.v. “activism,” accessed March 7, 2021, 7?redirectedFrom=activism&

46 John Luther Adams, Slate, accessed February 5, 2021, https://

(Figure 12 shown on next page.)
Figure 12. Adams, “The Hour of the Owls,” mm. 41-46

ways of expression through choral music, as more composers find inspiration in this increasingly urgent topic. Adams has been at the forefront of this movement, exhibiting commitment, leadership, innovation, and passion as he forges new paths for the genre. His work is not forceful, yet it holds power: the power to persuade through the union of sound and nature reimagined in musical form.

It is significant to note that my own research and interest in this field is a direct result of performing some of these pieces, a true testament to the influential nature of this work. In turn, my students have benefitted from our ongoing programming in this area. Having engaged my students on numerous environmental choral projects over the past ten years, I have been able to witness a growing ethos among the students, a work ethic that includes a sense of responsibility as young artists and stewards of the earth. We hope that our message also continues to reach our audiences, providing an alternative context to contemplate the complexities of modern ecology and a sustainable future.

musicians should consider joining this “vigorous campaign.” Through thoughtful programming, choral conductors are in the unique position of persuading both their choristers and audience that the environmental crisis is a critical concern for our time. With an increasing number of repertoire options, choosing environmental choral repertoire as a programmatic theme offers a clear opportunity to be a part of the solution. The encouraging words of Adams remind us of our potential as musicians to effect change: “If my music can inspire people to listen more deeply to this miraculous world we inhabit, then I will have done what I can as a composer to help us navigate this perilous era of our own creation.”47

—Kirsten Hedegaard

The growing environmental crisis requires urgent attention, and if music can play a role in bringing further awareness to these issues, then

Kirsten Hedegaard has enjoyed a varied career as a singer and conductor. She has performed with many early music specialists and has appeared as soloist and ensemble member with groups across the country. Currently Director of Choral and Vocal Activities at Loyola University Chicago, Hedegaard frequently serves as a guest conductor, clinician, and lecturer throughout the U.S. and abroad. As a co-founder of The EcoVoice Project and Artistic Director of the New Earth Ensemble, Hedegaard is dedicated to bringing together musicians and artists to explore how the arts can support environmental education and action.

47 Adams, “I want my art to matter,” The Guardian, accessed March 5, 2021, 2018/oct/30/john-luther-adams-composer-become-ocean.


Recording Reviews

home in me

When introducing the release of the new album, director Sandra Snow asks the question in Marie Kondo fashion: “Does it spark joy?” Even when introducing challenging topics, joy is what this album, home in me radiates. At the first listening, immediate attention is drawn to the beautiful, polished choral sound of mirabai, but subsequent hearings highlight the nuances created in tone for the varied selections. This album brings to the forefront many wonderful living composers and women poets’ voices, as well as revisiting music written for treble voices in the Baroque era. While evoking sounds of blues through the minor pentatonic scale, the refreshing spark and triumph is palpable in Andrea Ramsey’s They May Tell You, setting a text written by Isabella Cook when she was only 17 years old. The poem, inspired by the members of Isabella’s treble choir in high school, celebrates being a woman, and the challenges and doubts faced by women. In her poem she says: “they may ask you, who do you think you are? And you may tell them, I am a woman, I keep company of others like me, women of forest, women of fire, women of sunshine, women of sea, and we lay claim to everything from coral reef to redwood tree.” This is what this album celebrates, finding “home” in whatever it may

mean for women’s voices, our differences and shared experiences, and our unique paths and challenges. home in me uplifts and intrigues the listener through a collection of eloquently sung choral pieces performed with luscious warm tone, precision, and expertise.

Mirabai is a professional women’s ensemble who aims “to enhance the artistic expectations of women’s choral singing by connecting powerful music of women, past and present; and performing, commissioning, and recording new and innovative musics that express the rich and emotional terrain of a woman’s life.”1 The ensemble has three main goals: enhance expectations of women’s choral singing, engage in collaboration with women who are leaders in choral education, and connect to the powerful music of women from all eras, including performing and commissioning new works. They also strive to mold future generations through a young scholars program, which offers mentoring to high-school aged students. Eight students are offered the opportunity to work one-on-one with current teachers and together they explore the choral world as a possible career path.

1 “Mirabai,” mirabai,

Pieces on this album represent a variety of compositional voices largely from North America. All poets are women, except in the opening track which is a new edition of J.S. Bach’s Suscepit Israel from his Magnificat BWV 243. This new edition was originally created for mirabai by Liza Calisesi Maidens for their performance at Southwest ACDA in 2020, scored for SSA choir, oboe, and realized continuo. In the inaugural performance of this edition an oboe part was replaced by soprano saxophone, which is a great option for schools with strong jazz programs.

Other pieces on the album may prove accessible to high school and collegiate treble ensembles, including Melissa Dunphy’s Wild Embers has a powerful text written by Nikita Gill, and explores sophisticated body percussion. Ensembles will love this piece with its thriving rhythmic pulse and hissing of the dying fire. Although unaccompanied, the use of beautifully crafted vocal pairings and call and response will allow choirs of varied experience to enjoy the piece.

Winter Stars by Jake Runestad opens with a twinkling star motif in the piano, providing a sense of hope through its consistency of the constellations. As stated on his website, “Orion returns in the winter sky, reminding us that even when there is war and violence and sadness in our lives, we can find hope and constancy in the cosmos.”2 Dominick DiOrio’s Broken is set to the text of Megan Levad’s poem “When a Compass is Broken.” The piece’s cluster chords and exposed passages where the piano is not playing make this piece a challenge. Rather than doubling any of the vocal parts, the piano creates its own cyclic pattern and the choir works as a layering texture, alternating between rhythmic poetic passages and luscious chords where mirabai’s impeccable blend and artistry is clearly displayed.

The title of the album home in me comes from a poem by Dr. Sienna Craig. This three-movement work for treble chorus, piano, and percussion was commissioned for a Carnegie Hall premier with the theme “what is home.” On this album we hear movement number 1, Body. Singers are invited to sing and play rocks they have gathered. The long legato lines of the choral parts respond to the percussion instruments, including the piano, creating an interesting rhythmic landscape. The middle opens into a short a cappella section, bringing back the opening theme, and developing into a section showcasing the piano writing of Andrea Clearfield.

At the golden mean of this album is Caroline Shaw’s It’s Motion Keeps . Caroline Shaw is a Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer and a member of vocal band Roomful of Teeth, who has explored new sound worlds both in the classical genre as well as in popular music. This piece, originally written for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2013. It calls for treble chorus and solo viola or cello. On this track mirabai shows its impeccable technical skill and musicianship. From difficult rhythms to exposed harmonies and individual vocal lines, the singers are challenged by mastering their individual parts while listening and responding to the ensemble around them. The final climax is built around three main points: the choral parts are divided into chorus in a chordal callresponse fashion, the timbre build through “oo’s” and “aa’s” exploring and challenging the listening with unexpected repetitive consonant fireworks and finally the end tapers off to a homorhythmic statement of the title line from the poem.

Joan Szymko’s Stars In Your Bones was composed as a gift to the Aurora Chorus to celebrate the ensemble as “A Place Where You Belong”, the theme of its 25th Anniversary Season. The text for this piece is provided by Alla Bozarth who is a Russian, Celtic, Osage, American poet,

2 “Winter Stars,” Jake Runestad, winter-stars/.

and Episcopal priest. The idea of a “big bang” is suggested in the opening lively chords of the piano. The overall rhythmic complexity of Szymko’s writing and the vocal splits makes the piece challenging to sing. Mirabai’ s technical expertise is on full display as they navigate through changing meters and wide ranges with ease and grace.

At the end of the album mirabai embraces the listener with Sarah Quartel’s delicate All Shall Be Well. The text is inspired by Julian of Norwich and the composer herself, inspired by reflections written by the commissioning choir. Known later by the name of Juliana of Norwich (1342c. 1416), the poet lived most of her life as an anchoress at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich. She is known through her book The Revelations of Divine Love, which is known to be the first book written in English language by a woman. The vocal parts create a luscious harmony with the piano and violin ensemble. Returning to the idea of joy, from the words of Juliana of Norwich to young Isabella Cook in the 21st century, mirabai takes us on a journey in search of home in its many meanings, varying timbres, and poetry exploring different aspects of our experiences in life. With the final track mirabai wraps the listener into a warm embrace that lasts long after the song has ended, and with comfort that all truly shall be well, and we all may shine at our brightest.

Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College

What is Ours: Music for an America in Progress

Many facets of life in America were challenged, investigated or recontextualized in the years surrounding the pandemic. What is Ours: Music for an America in Progress is a product of this environment born from change; originally conceptualized as an extension of NOTUS’ performance for the cancelled 2020 World Symposium on Choral Music, this initially-delayed-then-released album is framed and shaped by the themes inherent in life in pandemic-era America.

Dominick DiOrio’s repertoire selections for this album both explicitly and implicitly reference the issues brought to bear in the early 2020s. Andrea Ramsey’s Stomp on the Fire and Carlos Cordero’s ¡Ayúdame! speak to the injustices present in modern society. The two works are deftly woven together to create a narrative wending from the despair inherent in Cordero’s work (whose text involves repeated cries for mercy including “Mírame, escúchame, estoy enfermo, Ayúdame,” which translates to “Look at me, listen to me, I am sick, help me!”) to Ramsey’s work which is “meant to represent the beautiful diversity of humanity and the strength present when that diversity comes together in unity.”1

One particularly meaningful work on the album is Moira Smiley’s Wire You Here, a work that encapsulates the frustration and sense of

—Tatiana Taylor —Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey Bunker Hill Community College
1 Andrea Ramsey, “Stomp on the Fire,” 2015, https://www.

disconnectedness many musicians experienced living and working remotely in the height of the pandemic. The vocal ostinatos on the text “wire you here” underscore the simultaneous spokenword performances by ensemble members who intone their experiences of attending remote classes, looking at screens, and feeling anxiety about an increasingly uncertain future. These layers build until two soloists, a tenor and soprano, sing “I’m reaching across. I’m reaching to you now. What carries me across the abyss of us.” The work ends with the spoken statement “I just can’t wait for the day that I can be connected with my fellow artists again.”

One of NOTUS’ particular strengths lies in the representation of commissioned works on the album. John William Griffiths II’s First Light, Leigha Amick’s Night Sky, and DiOrio’s own It Takes Your Breath Away and A Chain is Broken were all commissioned for performances by NOTUS, and each performance is outstanding. Of particular note is Roger Roe’s phenomenal English horn playing on It Takes Your Breath Away, which is set to a spoken-word reading of the titular poem by Margie McCreless Roe.

DiOrio’s version of an America in progress is that of a multicultural nation representing people of diverse backgrounds. In addition to the aforementioned Venezuelan American composer Carlos Cordero, the works of Indian American composer Reena Esmail and African American composer Joel Thompson are represented in Tuttarana and America Will Be!, respectively. Both works are well-performed by NOTUS, and America Will Be! in particular features some fantastic solo work.

NOTUS and DiOrio handle each of these works exceptionally well, taking particular care to exemplify each of the contrasting styles featured in these diverse offerings. I found myself constantly enraptured by the artistry displayed by the musicians in the ensemble, whose brilliant performances accentuate the meaningful narratives constructed in this wonderful set of repertoire. I heartily recommend this touching, thoughtprovoking, and well-executed album.


Considering Matthew Shepard Through the Five Stages of Grief


On the morning of October 7, 1998 Matthew Shepard was tied to a split-rail fence in Laramie, Wyoming. He was beaten, and struck in the head nearly 21 times with the back of a revolver by Aaron McKinney. Russel Henderson drove the vehicle and aided and abetted in tying Matthew to the fence.1 Eighteen hours later, Matthew was found by a cyclist, who initially thought he was a scarecrow. After being taken to the hospital, Matt died from his injuries on October 12, 1998.

During the trials, the prosecution argued that the murder was premeditated; driven by greed and homophobia. In court, the defense put forth the gay panic defense, arguing that McKinney justly killed Matthew under the law after Shepard made sexual advances towards him. 2 The claims made by the defense lacked evidence in court, and McKinney was charged with felony murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. Henderson plead guilty to murder and kidnapping charges and each are serving two consecutive life terms. Although there has been contention regarding the circumstances surrounding Matthew’s death, in a later interview with Greg Pierotti, McKinney said “Matt

Composer and conductor Craig Hella Johnson was immediately impacted by the death of Matthew and ruminated about this tragic event for over ten years afterward. Johnson wanted to respond in a meaningful way, and thus marked the creation of Considering Matthew Shepard, first premiered in September of 2016. Although viewed as a passion by some, Johnson deliberately avoided the use of passion in the title. Johnson is quoted in an interview with Robert Clark Ward stating:

It was very important to me for the workshop not to call it the “Passion of Matthew Shepard” or to call it anything too specific. That sort of ties things up in a little bow. I just thought, all I’m going to say for this workshop is Considering Matthew Shepard, so it feels like people can come and have their own experience

1 Jude Sheerin, “Matthew Shepard: The Murder That Changed America,” BBC News (BBC, October 26, 2018),
Shepard needed killing,” “The night I did it, I did have hatred for homosexuals.”3
2 Michael Janofsky, “A Defense To Avoid Execution,” The New York Times (The New York Times, October 26, 1999), https:// html. 3 Keating, Shannon. “What A Gay College Student’s Murder Can Teach Us About Hate In America Today.” BuzzFeed News. BuzzFeed News, October 12, 2018. https://www.buzzfeednews. com/article/shannonkeating/hate-in-america.

with this. I want to create music that can allow people to have their own inner journey with the music and with the story and not dictate, here’s how you need to feel. I didn’t want to manipulate anything. I wanted to really be careful. Because some of this is so emotionally potent, it’s easy to step into it and kind of paint it a little extra purple. I would just say: “How do I tell the story with feeling, with care, with thoughtfulness but not creating a dogma of mind for them, for the listeners?”4

This simple change of title has a profound impact and raises many questions. Who is Matthew Shepard and how is his death contemplated by all? By evaluating Considering Matthew Shepard, it is evident that this work is considered through the universal human experience of grief. Johnson enacts this grieving process through specific creation and selection of texts by himself, Michael Dennis Browne, Lesléa Newman, and others. Through carefully chosen musical styles, Johnson cultivates a musical experience that suspends disbelief, and pulls us into the grieving process. Using various musical devices, such as melody, cadence, instrumentation, and rhythm, the grieving becomes an actual part of the experience, both for performers and audience members. This article will explore Considering Matthew Shepard through the Kübler-Ross model of grief.

Kübler-Ross Model of Grief

In Dr. Kübler-Ross’s 1969 book, On Death and Dying , she identifies five different stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her work began with studying terminally ill patients, but the five stages of grief have been broadened to various types of

loss. 5 When talking about grief, it must be understood that it does not simply apply to the death of a loved one. Though that may be most shocking, grief can occur after any type of loss, including losing a job, moving to a new town, and even separating from a partner. Initially, Dr. Kübler-Ross’s model of grief drew many criticisms, mostly resulting from the public perception of her model, rather than the nuances of her psychological observation. However, Kübler-Ross clarified these perceptions in a later book On Grief and Grieving

In this later book, Dr. Kübler-Ross states that the stages of grief “are not stops on some linear timeline of grief.”6 One can move from denial, skip over anger, jump to bargaining, and then pop back to denial. Grief is as complex as the human psyche, and individuals tend to uniquely move through these different stages. Along with alternating between stages, an individual can revisit a stage more than once. KüblerRoss clarifies that grieving individuals can also experience multiple stages simultaneously. That is to say, the label of a certain stage was not the only emotion or cognitive state experienced but rather the most pervasive. Meaning, an individual can bargain for the place of their loved one, while also exhibiting anger.7

A further criticism of this model involved the lack of significant empirical data. However, in 2007, the Yale Bereavement Study published research that supported the Five Stages of Grief, showcasing that individuals indeed experience these stages in a somewhat similar fashion.8 Most

5 Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. 1st Macmillan paperbacks ed. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

6 Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, David Kessler, and Maria Shriver, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss (New York, New York : Scribner, 2014), 7.

7 Kübler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving, 7.

8 Maciejewski, Paul K, Zhang, Baohui, Block, Susan D, and Prigerson, Holly G. “An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief.” JAMA : The Journal of the American Medical Association 297, no. 7 (2007): 716–23.

4 Robert Clark Ward, “Passion Settings of the 20th and 21st Centuries Focusing on Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepard” (dissertation, UNT Digital Library , 2016), pp. 1–79.

importantly, the process of grief is not forced, nor can one grieve incorrectly. Some critics of the Kübler-Ross model argue that the five stages are much too simple, and do not reflect the full range of the human grieving process. However, its inherent flexibility and reflection of the human experience can contribute to a sense of certainty for those that are grieving.9

This is not a typical theoretical or historical analysis paper according to standard musicology practices. This article will be a unique attempt to understand why and how this musical work makes us feel a certain way. Analysis will incorporate elements of music theory, musicology, and psychology. The goal is to better understand our human condition, and through this interdisciplinary approach, evaluate music through the lens of emotions and human psychology.


“I just can’t believe it,” is a common saying associated with this first stage of grief. Denial is often associated with the term shock, although denial is more specifically focused on the cognitive, rather than the physiological impact of loss. It is worth noting that denial was first mentioned by Anna Freud, who believed that denial was a protective factor.10 By admitting there is an inner conflict, an individual has to deal with the situation logistically, emotionally, and psychologically. Denial is the disbelief that the loss is actually happening to an individual, and Kübler-Ross presents denial as a necessary buffer

to unexpected news. 11 It allows an individual to collect themselves so they can develop healthier defenses.12 Although denial is often an initial reaction to loss, it tends to present itself throughout the stages of grief. Often, the loss can be too large of a burden to bear. Denial allows an individual to escape the reality of what may be true, even just for a small moment. However, denial is not viewed as a sustainable long-term coping strategy and can prevent a person from moving on in their grieving cycle. 13 The most striking example of denial in Considering Matthew Shepard comes in movement 10 entitled Keep It Away From Me (The Wound of Love) . The text crafted by Johnson and Browne directly reflects the cognitive process of denial.

9 Kimberly Key , “You Can’t Rush Grief ,” Psychology Today , December 28, 2015, counseling-keys/201512/you-cant-rush-grief.

10 Anna Freud, The Ego and the Mechanism of Defence. (New York, New York: Routledge, 2018).



Away From Me (The Wound of

Love) don’t wanna look on this never get near flames too raw for me grief too deep keep it away from me stay out of my heart stay out of my hope some son, somebody’s pain some child gone child never mine born to this trouble don’t wanna be born to this world world where sometimes yes world where mostly no the wound of love^ smoke round my throat rain down my soul no heaven lies keep them gone keep them never

11 Louis Linn, “The Role of Perception in the Mechanism of Denial, ” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 1, no. 4 (October 1953): 690–705. https://doi. org/10.1177/000306515300100406.

12 Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying

13 Christina Gregory, “Five Stages Of Grief - Understanding the Kubler-Ross Model,” - Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1996, September 23, 2020. https://www.psycom. net/depression.central.grief.html.


grief too deep, flames too raw keep them away from me stay out of my heart stay out of my hope don’t try any old story on me no wing no song no cry no comfort ye no wound ever mine close up the gates of night the wound of love keep this all away from me the wound of love you take away the wounds of the world keep it away from me14

In the text, the mezzo-soprano soloist directly acknowledges their feelings of denial. In the first stanza, the speaker is attempting to suppress intense feelings of pain and suffering over the tragic death of Matthew. They admit that the emotions are much too difficult to bear and that their grief is too overwhelming to manage. Therefore, they push back against the difficult situation by refusing to accept those feelings. This gives the speaker a moment to think more objectively about the situation. The soloist then goes on to attempt to rationalize what they experienced, using generalizations in the last three lines of the first stanza. The text emphasizes the idea that Shepard’s death was just a way of the world; the world is sometimes good, and it is sometimes bad. Although this may be true, this does not comfort in a way that is considerably impactful, but rather, uses a broad generalization in order to justify the death of Matthew. In the second stanza, the emotions, thoughts, and feelings become much too visceral for the soloist to bear. Johnson and Browne craft intense visualizations of rain and smoke that choke and burden the soloist with intense grief. This leads the speaker to isolate themselves, another

14 Craig Hella Johnson et al., Considering Matthew Shepard, Libretto (Austin, Texas : Conspirare, 2016).

significant element of this first stage of grief. The soloist refuses to accept any help. In the end, the speaker ends where they started, in intense denial and isolation due to the horrendous murder of Matthew Shepard.

This pervasive denial is ingeniously supported musically. Johnson sets this movement to several Blues elements. Although it does not use the typical 12-bar phrasing, it utilizes many other foundational elements of Blues. The movement begins with a guitar solo, using slide motion. Following this, drums enter, keeping a steady pulse throughout, followed one measure later by a walking, pizzicato bass line. There is a swing rhythm crafted into the piano part, with the use of triplets, and call-and-response is apparent between the mezzo solo and the SSA trio. However, it is not necessarily melodically or textually related. The call-and-response in this case functions as the pervasive, conscious thoughts of the soloist. The setting of this movement to Blues music reflects a passionate, visceral, and melancholic state of emotions, which is effective in showcasing intense despair. The most pervasive elements of denial, however, are found in the places where Johnson deliberately moves away from the tenets of Blues.

Throughout the mezzo solo, only the pitches of the typical blues scale are used. This is also the case in most of the instrumental and vocal harmony of the work. Although not conventionally used in a D minor blues scale, B-natural is used in almost every other measure in the harmony, especially in the piano part. Traditionally, the harmonic structure of the blues revolves around I, IV, and V. In this setting, Johnson uses D minor and a G-Dominant-Seven most often, alternating between the two chords in nearly every measure until m.41. It would be most conventional to anticipate that following a G-Dominant-Seven chord, one could expect either C Major, or even A minor with deceptive motion: therein lies the


denial. In this analysis paper, the author makes the argument that C Major is the chord of acceptance in Considering Matthew Shepard . The fusion oratorio opens with Bach’s Prelude in C-Major and ends with a settling cadence into C Major (more on this in the Acceptance section of this analysis). Throughout Keep It Away From Me (The Wound of Love), Johnson uses the G-Dominant-Seven chord to create tension, though it really never resolves to a clear C Major. This hypothesis prevails in the penultimate measure of the movement, when Johnson places a C-major chord in second inversion over an open fifth of D and A; the first time a semblance of a C Major chord has been introduced in this movement.15

within C Major, battling back and forth with the melancholy D Minor. The use of the B-natural, G-Dominant-Seven chord, and final cadence effectively reflect the speaker’s battle between denial and acceptance. Anger

The lack of ending resolution furthers the characterization of struggle with denial. It depicts the speaker trying to come to acceptance

Anger is characterized as a secondary emotion that is used to cope when individuals want to protect themselves or hide from vulnerable feelings. Anger can sometimes be redirected at others, including physical objects. Anger often clouds our logical judgment, but protects us from feeling intense or painful emotions. It is similar to denial in this way, but while denial refuses to acknowledge a loss, anger begins to redirect those overwhelming feelings. 16

16 Kimberly Holland, “What You Should Know About the Stages of Grief ,” Healthline, September 25, 2018, https://www.healthline. com/health/stages-of-grief#anger.

15 Craig Hella Johnson et al., “Keep It Away From Me,” in Considering Matthew Shepard (Austin, Texas : Conspirare, 2016), pp. 151. Figure 1: Excerpt from Keep It Away From Me (The Wound of Love), measures 64–6715

Movement 9, A Protestor , characterizes this secondary emotion. A Protestor sets the text of Lesléa Newman, which incorporates spoken phrases, and writings on the signs of the Westboro Baptist Church at the funeral of Matthew Shepard. Johnson juxtaposes this text by Newman with the German word kreuzige, meaning crucify; a clear reference to Bach’s St. John Passion. This movement has a double impact, as there are multiple levels of anger that can be dissected. First, is the anger experienced by the audience; the actual anger that is felt due to a feeling of unjustness. The fact that any person’s funeral is being protested feels quite unjust. From the other side, the more internalized anger comes from the perspective of the protestors themselves.

A Protestor kreuzige, kreuzige!

A boy who takes a boy to bed

Where I come from that’s not polite

He asked for it you got that right

The fires of hell burn hot and red

The only good fag, is a fag that’s dead…17

The protestors are taking advantage of Matthew Shepard’s family and friends in an incredibly vulnerable time. Interestingly, the protestors are not able to be vulnerable themselves, arguably expressing their homophobic beliefs through. It seems that Johnson understood this well. When the protestors begin to laugh, Johnson includes the note, “mixture of fear and derision.” This indicates that there is a significant level of insecurity among the protestors. Rather than expressing, managing, and dealing with their emotions productively, they instead express their hatred through derogatory slurs, chanting, and altercations with funeral goers. The second level of anger comes from the soprano and alto melody in measure 43, with the following text.

A Protestor

…C’mon, kids, it’s time for bed

Say your prayers, kiss Dad good night

A boy who takes a boy to bed?

The fires of Hell burn hot and red crucify, crucify…the light crucify the light…18

The addition of this text showcases the internalized anger and hatred juxtaposed in a child’s lullaby. This further emphasizes how these hateful beliefs, shrouded in anger, can be transferred to future generations by more subtle means.

A Protestor incorporates new rhythmic activity in “The Passion” portion of the work. In respect to percussion, Johnson begins with the cajon playing near constant eighth notes, modifying to accent the soprano and alto kreuzige in measure 20. The cajon then moves to a galloping pattern, before finally shifting to constant sixteenth notes. The work then slows down in the opposite direction, moving from straight sixteenth notes to eighth-sixteenth notes, to straight eighths, and finally ending with the addition of quarter pulses. This acceleration into a more active rhythm grows in conjunction with the soprano and alto kreuzige. Once sparse, this musical cell persists on every beat and is supported by all of the string instruments. Along with this, the tenor and bass texture develops from two layers to three layers, crafting an environment of overlapping shouts and screams.

Anger can be expressed in several ways, including physiologically, psychologically, and behaviorally. Physiologically, anger can often accompany a stress response. This stress response can often involve an increase in heart rate, emphasized by Johnson’s accelerating and accented pulse. Most emotions, most notably anger, are typically felt for about 90

18 October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Copyright © 2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

17 Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard

seconds,19at which point, heart rate, heat in the face, and muscular tension begin to dissipate.20 The protest section of this movement, not including the lullaby, elapses for about 80 seconds. This timing directly reflects the physiological human experience and therefore has a more substantial impact on the grieving. Psychologically, children learn to deal with negative emotions through childhood. Inappropriate modeling may result in more aggressive outbursts of anger transcending into adulthood. This is yet another paradox of Johnson’s protestor setting, with the words of a mother to her child. Not only does this suggest more subtle, internalized hatred, but provides context for the anger of the protestors. Behaviorally, anger can often involve loud verbalization, also known as yelling.21 Every

19 Craig Hella Johnson et al., “A Protestor,” in Considering Matthew Shepard (Austin, Texas : Conspirare, 2016), pp. 125.

20 Joseph E LuDoux, The Emotional Brain The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (New York, New York : Simon & amp; Schuster, 2008).

21 Howard Kassinove, “How to Recognize and Deal with Anger,” American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 2011),

time the tenors and basses enter with the protest melody, they enter at a volume no softer than forte. The soprano and alto kreuzige is accented and staccato, further contributing to the yell-like quality of the movement.


In the stages of grief, bargaining is characterized by an individual attempting to make a deal in the hope that their loved one will be returned. This can include making an agreement with a higher power, attempting to sacrifice a bad habit for a loved one, or pondering what one could have done in order to prevent the loss. In Considering Matthew Shepard, bargaining is not a prominent stage, but rather a transition from one stage to another. Bargaining is moved through in a sequence of thoughts that includes movements 14–16. In the section, Johnson and Browne take an alternative approach to bargaining. Rather than bargaining to take the place of Matthew, they

Figure 2: Excerpt from A Protestor, measures 31–3319

grapple with whether they could have committed the horrendous act of Aaron and Russel. This is a pivotal moment in the work, as this transitions the audience from anger to sadness.

The first piece in this sequence of bargaining is movement 14 entitled Stray Birds. The text comes from carefully chosen lines of Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of poems entitled with the same name. Tagore was a Bengali poet and author and was the first Asian recipient of the Nobel prize in Literature in 1913.22 Johnson decides to use the first and ninth stanza.

Stray Birds

Stray birds of summer come to my window to sing and fly away. And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no songs, flutter and fall there with a sigh…

…Once we dreamt that we were strangers.

We wake up to find that we were dear to each other…23

This movement directly follows the introduction to Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson. The audience learns about their incarceration, and we are moved into Stray Birds. The text chosen in stanza one seems to reflect both the ephemerality of life, along with a transient quality. The speaker in the poem develops a relationship with the stray birds, which have no home, and the leaves, which have no purpose. Combined with stanza nine, this seems to bring the audience closer to Aaron and Russel, implying that although they did commit an awful crime, we actually may be more like them than we think. Although we may want to think that we could not commit this crime, are we really that different? Does our shared humanity mean that we are capable of falling to the same fate?


“The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913,”, The Nobel Prize, accessed February 23, 2023.

23 Rabidranath Tagore, “Stray Birds.”

Johnson sets this text to unison chant, with a semi-transparent homophonic texture. This makes the text easily perceptible to the audience. The phrasing utilizes text painting, with words like “fly,” “flutter,” and “fall.” The use of text painting cultivates a visual environment for the grieving, further suspending them into the story. The grieving begin to wonder if it is at all possible that we could have just have easily been the perpetrators of the crime. The key moves from E minor, to E Major, cultivating a seamless transition into We Are All Sons, movement 15 of the work, followed by I Am Like You/We Are All Sons.

I Am Like You/We Are All Sons

…I am like you

I get confused

And I’ve been reckless, I’ve been restless, bored, Unthinking, listless, intoxicated I’ve come unhinged and made mistakes

And hurt people very much

Sometimes I feel, in springtime in early afternoon

The sunshine warm on my face

You feel this too, don’t you?

The sunshine warm on your face

I am like you

This troubles me

I am like you

Just needed to say

Some things we love

Get lost along the way…24

Johnson’s musical setting appeals to deep emotions. The setting of I Am Like You, utilizes an acapella, almost conversational, pattern. Johnson leaves space in-between short phrases of text, perceived by the listener as time for breath, or possibly contemplation. The harmony is incredibly dissonant, with the use of frequent

24 Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard

minor seconds, sevenths, and tritones. The text also develops as society grapples with being more like the killers than they could’ve anticipated. The text battles between the statement “I am like you” and the question “I am like you,” throughout the first half of the work. This changes in the second half of the piece, when the universal human conditions and emotions are introduced. “I am like you” is interspersed through other thoughts and repeated until the end of the work. So now, rather than questioning whether the grieving could be like Aaron and Russel, they are grappling with the idea that they are like Aaron and Russel. This is further supported by the way in which this question, and complementary answer are voiced.

Moreover, the audience begins to contemplate what this message could mean. The incorporation of parentheses in some of the text showcases reflection of the individual with thoughts that they may choose not to share out loud. Johnson ends this movement with a textual and musical extension of We Are All Sons.

We Are All Sons (Part 1)

We are all sons of father and mothers

We are all sons

We are all rivers the roar of waters

We are all sons

I Am Like You/We Are All Sons

25 Craig Hella Johnson et al., “I Am Like You/We Are All Sons ” in Considering Matthew Shepard (Austin, Texas : Conspirare, 2016), pp. 193 Figure 3: Excerpt from I Am Like You/We Are All Sons, measures 56–59 25

If you could know for one moment

How it is to live in our bodies

Within the world

If you could know

You ask too much of us

You ask too little.

Although not the typical presentation of bargaining, I Am Like You/We Are All Sons directly asks the grieving to consider their own values. These movements are meant to create a sense of discomfort, to pressure us to look deeper. Moreover, this pulls the audience deeper into active participation in Considering Matthew Shepard.


In the five stages of grief, depression is the least active mood. The stage of depression is when we begin to allow ourselves to look at the reality of the loss. We can no longer deny, yell, or attempt to negotiate. Because of this, depression may result in intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The loss becomes mostly present, now a part of the fabric of our environment. During depression, one may feel unsettled and more reserved. It is common to isolate during this stage and seek less help.26

A sense of sadness is present throughout the fusion oratorio, however, the quintessential traits pervade in movement 24, In Need of Breath. This movement directly follows Stars, a description by Dennis Shepard of the environment in which Matthew died. This movement is both a reflection of depression and an extended metaphor for the death of Matthew. The text by Hafiz compares a heart, to an unset jewel, yearning for meaning and companionship.

In Need of Breath

My heart

Is an unset jewel

Upon the tender night

Yearning for its dear old friend

The Moon.

When the Nameless One debuts again

Ten thousand faces of my being unfurl wings

And reveal such a radiance inside

I enter a realm divine-

I too being, to so sweetly cast light, Like a lamp

Through the streets of this World

My heart is an unset jewel

Upon existence

Waiting for the Friend’s touch


My heart is an unset ruby

Offered bowed and weeping to the Sky

I am dying in these cold hours

For the resplendent glance of God27

A divine-like quality entrenches the poem, as the speaker yearns for a connection with the divine, in order to find light; to find peace. The tenor soloist is struggling to find acceptance when they are unsettled, hopeless, and uncertain. As a metaphor for Matthew Shepard, Johnson sets this to tenor solo, with the chorus only entering when the word “radiance” appears. The tenor solo, used previously throughout the work, had been a reflection of Matthew’s own voice. The poem speaks to a lack of purpose and direction, and directly speaks to dying in cold hours, just as Matthew was tied to the fence for 18 hours in 31 degree temperatures.7 In the previous movement, Stars, Dennis Shepard describes the natural comfort of the night sky, the stars and moon, the daylight and the sun, and God. In Need of Breath continues this perspective, now from the voice of Matthew.

26 Jennifer Casarella, “Grief & Depression Coping With Denial, Loss, Anger and More, ” WebMD, September 27, 2020. https:// 27 “In Need of Breath,” from The Gift by Daniel Ladinsky, copyright 1999, by permission.

Musically, Johnson sets this text to an adagio pace in Eb minor. This slow, walking tempo contributes to the latent energy of this stage of grief. Excerpts of the melody are given to the clarinet, cello, viola, and violin. When these moments enter, Johnson marks plaintive, indicating a sense of weeping and mourning. This is supported by the structure of the melodic lines, holding the highest pitch and descending by step with increased rhythmic activity. The vocal line has a similar pattern, approaching the highest pitch by a minor third, then gradually descending over the course of the phrase. In the second stanza, the melody in the vocal line, along with accompaniment begin to rise. This contributes to the sense of divinity, or of reaching a higher place. We begin in Gb Major in the third section beginning with “I enter a realm divine,” still with a similar melodic pattern to the first stanza. Although, there is an inkling of acceptance, as the soloist reveals that this radiance inside them will create an impact “through the streets of this world.” This subtle shift to a major key creates a momentary feeling of hopefulness. The piece returns to Eb minor, with a shift in rhythmic motion. The first two beats become accented, and the melody becomes loud and pained. This is another moment of struggling with acceptance of the incident, for both the grieving, and for Matthew. Johnson repeats the word “tonight,” first declaratively, then with a melisma, followed by a melisma “ah”, before returning to “tonight” acapella and fading. The grieving struggle to accept Shepard’s death, and Shepard himself is struggling with accepting his own fate. The weeping, accented, and declarative nature showcase frustration, and the use of melismas can be interpreted as melancholy cries. The final two stanzas of the piece begin to accept this death, though not without sadness. The poem illustrates that their heart has been given to the Sky, to a divine place, using a similar melodic contour to the previous weeping stanzas. The death is acknowledged and the texture gradually begins to thin. The work ends with the weeping motive in the clarinet and violin, bringing the grieving back to that melancholy place.


Acceptance does not mean that the pain of loss is gone. Acceptance is not necessarily accepting the entirety of the loss, but recognizing that the grieving process is unpredictable and immovable. Once one can acknowledge the uncertainty of the process, they are on the road to acceptance. Rather than a stage, some proponents of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy view acceptance as a state of being or an active state 28 This involves becoming psychologically flexible, defined as “coming into full contact with painful experiences and with the uniquely chosen values while consciously choosing to act and engage in a meaningful life.”29

The entirety of the epilogue possesses themes of acceptance. Meet Me Here, Thank You, All of Us, and Cattle, Horses, Sky and Grass (Reprise) answer different questions of this active state. Meet Me Here invites the grieving to join them at a new horizon; not where the death will be forgotten, but a place where one can acknowledge their pain and suffering and move towards a more hopeful future. All of Us answers the question of how we can move on. Through hope, acceptance, love, and community, the grieving can prevail through any tragedy. The final reprise pays homage to the beginning of the work, ending the piece where it started. The entirety of the epilogue implies Matthew’s legacy and answers that very question presented in movement 5, The Fence (Before).

28 Steven Hayes, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ,” Association for Contextual Behavioral Science , accessed December 11, 2020,

29 Stefan G. Hofmann and Gordon J. G. Asmundson, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and the Cognitive Behavioral Tradition: Assumptions, Model, Methods, and Outcomes,” in The Science of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (London, UK: Academic Press, 2017), pp. 155–173.


The Fence (Before) still still still I wonder will I always be out here exposed and alone? will I ever know why I was put (here) on this earth? will somebody someday stumble upon me?

will anyone remember me after I’m gone?

Still, still, still…I wonder.30

Johnson stealthily incorporates the response in movement 29, The Pilgrimage , which directly precedes the epilogue. In this dense, eight-part vocal texture, Johnson incorporates three “I wonder” phrases in the Soprano II voices of the last twenty measures. These are nearly imperceptible to the audience, given the vocal texture, vocal solos, and orchestration. We first here this “I wonder” phrase in movement five, The Fence (Before) as the soloist asks whether they will continue to be exposed and alone, and if their legacy will live beyond their physical existence. In the context of The Pilgrimage, Johnson is leading us to relieve our wonderings, or fears, and our worries of grief. The epilogue secures our sense of community, now knowing that we will not go through this grieving process alone. Moreover, the last four movements showcase that Matthew’s legacy continues to live on positively in our hearts and minds, and brings us together as a community. Musically, the final four movements share a pivotal characteristic: the use of a final cadence into C Major. Recall during Keep It Away from Me, the quintessential denial movement, the harmony incorporated multiple G-Dominant-Seven chords, but never resolved into a true C Major. Every movement in the epilogue has a final cadence to a C Major chord which reflects the theme of acceptance.

Meet Me Here begins the process of acceptance. The text directly reflects a sense of relief by the soprano soloist. The grieving recognize their trials and tribulations, but are now flexible and willing to relieve themselves of that burden. The soprano soloist asks the grieving to meet them at the new horizon, offering a sense of a new beginning. Finally, the grieving are invited to welcome one another, and to learn to move towards the light, to a greater sense of acceptance. Interestingly in the libretto, Johnson decides to alternate between italicized and non-italicized text between every stanza. A similar pattern was observed in earlier movements, such as I Am Like You/ We Are All Sons, in which parentheses were used, although in Meet Me Here, this alternation is not directly reflected in the score. Here, the alternation of format in each stanza seems to reflect the consideration of Matthew Shepard. Often, during the acceptance stage, an individual can grapple with both the emotional/psychological and practical consequences of accepting the death of the one they lost. In this case, the italicized portions reference the emotional/psychological consequence of accepting the death of Matthew Shepard. The non-italicized text reflects the practical applications of coping, in which the burden will be released, and offers a hint as to what must be done for the grieving to move through this tragedy.

Acceptance not only involves hope for the future, but recognition and understanding of the painful emotions. Acceptance does not mean that “negative” emotions case to exist, but that we have the compassion, understanding, and courage to relationship with these difficult feelings. Movement 31, Thank You, uses the spoken text of American poet and author, W.S. Merwin. The poem, Thanks , showcases both accepting the joyful, and recognizing the painful.

All of Us answers the question of what we do next? How are we able to move on from this tragedy? Of course, it would be reasonable to

30 October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Copyright © 2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA

assume that significant policy action must be taken in order to protect the rights and lives of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, this is not explicitly a social justice piece. Johnson takes a different approach. Rather than advocating for specific policy changes, Johnson evokes a state of being that is more personal, thoughtful, and consumed by compassion. With text written by Johnson, he transcends the human experience, to a place where we can remember and consider Matthew Shepard, and also aspire to be kind, loving, caring, empathetic, and compassionate.

All of Us

What could be the song?

Where begin again?

Who could meet us there?

Where might we begin?

From the shadows climb, Rise to sing again;

Where could be the joy?

How do we begin?

Never our despair, Never the least of us, Never turn away, Never hide our face;

Ordinary boy, Only all of us, Free us from our fear, Only all of us.

What could be the song?

Where begin again?

Who could meet us there?

Where might we begin?

From the shadows climb, Rise to sing again; Where could be the joy?

How do we begin?

Never our despair, Never the least of us, Never turn away, Never hide your face; Ordinary boy, Only all of us, Free us from our fear.

Only in the Love, Love that lifts us up, Clear from out the heart

From the mountain’s side, Come creation come, Strong as any stream; How can we let go? How can we forgive? How can we be dream?

Out of heaven, rain, Rain to wash us free; Rivers flowing on, Ever to the sea; Bind up every wound, Every cause to grieve; Always to forgive, Only to believe.


Most noble Light, Creation’s face, How should we live but joined in you, Remain within your saving grace

Through all we say and do And know we are the Love that moves The sun and all the stars? +

O Love that dwells, O Love that burns In every human heart.

(Only in the Love, Love that lifts us up!)

This evergreen, this heart, this soul, Now moves us to remake our world, Reminds us how we are to be Your people born to dream; How old this joy, how strong this call, To sing your radiant care

With every voice, in cloudless hope Of our belonging here.

Only in the Love… Only all of us…

(Heaven: Wash me …)

All of us, only all of us.

What could be the song?

Where do we begin?

Only in the Love, Love that lifts us up. All Of Us


31 Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard

All of Us offers hope for a brighter future. In Considering Matthew Shepard, it directly tells us that we all are given the opportunity to grieve for Matthew. Johnson expertly sets this text to reflect a gospel style, beginning in Bb major. The rhythm incorporates various levels of syncopation and is driving throughout. The form is generally strophic, as each verse is set to similar melodic material, with the notable exception of the chorale setting. Johnson moves from an empowering SSA trio at the beginning, to a thick texture that incorporates a double choir and soloists. All of Us generally emphasizes a common chord progression, utilizing I, IV, V, and vi. Using a simple chord progression emphasizes the decisiveness of choosing acceptance. Furthermore, this progression makes the music much more predictable making this movement more accessible and universal. Johnson raises the key from Bb to C Major directly after the chorale setting in this movement. The chorale setting offers a sense of roundedness and pays homage to the passion settings of J.S. Bach. The chorale in this movement is also where the call to action lies in the text, showcased by the italicized words. This ascent to C Major through rising vocal lines that exceed the typical vocal tessituras craft exceptional hope, and the literal raising of hearts. The final two measures directly reference “alls” heard as the first choral sound in entire work, again, answering the question of who considers Matthew Shepard. All of Us ends with a plagal cadence into C Major.

Cattle, Horses, Sky and Grass (Reprise) (This chant of life cannot be heard

It must be felt, there is no word

To sing that could express the true Significance of how we wind

Through all these hoops of Earth and mind

Through horses, cattle, sky and grass

And all these things that sway and pass.)

Yoodle—ooh, yoodle-ooh-hoo, so sings a lone cowboy,

Who with the wild roses wants you to be free 32

Cattle, Horses, Sky and Grass (Reprise) uses the same text from the first moment, this time, ending with the tenor solo. In measure 130 and 131 of the first movement, Johnson inscribes a half cadence, moving from F major to G major. This is in contrast to this final movement, in which the cadence moves from a single “G” sung by the tenors, to a root position C major. This is grounding and settling, as we’ve avoided a strong cadence into C Major for the entire fusion oratorio up to this point. Johnson ends with the tenor solo, which now holds a more significant meaning. The solo directly calls on the grieving to release their pain and finally be free of the grief. The entire work ends, for the first time, with a secure cadence into C Major, releasing the grieving from the tension that bound them.

(Figure 4 shown on next page.) 32 Johnson, Considering Matthew Shepard


Crafted through the experience of grief, Considering Matthew Shepard contains elements of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through text, musical style, and various musical devices, Craig Hella Johnson invites the grieving to experience and enact the five stages of grief. The audience and performers alike are suspended both as participants, and close observers to the life, death, and legacy of Matthew. The question that pervades throughout the oratorio is answered, as Matthew has fundamentally impacted the culture of American society and the queer community. In December of 1998, the Matthew Shepard Foundation was incorporated. A theatrical work entitled The Laramie Project was premiered in Denver in February of 2000. During his first term, Barack Obama signed into law “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009,” which federally criminalized causing harm to another individual because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Although this work touches on an issue of social injustice,

the work’s specific purpose is not policy action. Considering Matthew Shepard is not just for the friends and family of Matthew, the world that watched his death, the queer community, or the one’s that took his life. Considering Matthew Shepard is for all of us to experience through the universal human experience of grief. 33

— Nicholas Sienkiewicz

Nicholas Sienkiewicz is a conductor and researcher based in NYC. His previous work has been published in the Choral Journal, with a focus on the interdisciplinary connections between choral music and the sciences. Nick has presented at national and international conferences including the College Music Society, European Association for Music in Schools, and the American Choral Director’s Association. Nick received his Master’s of Music in Choral Conducting from Indiana University, studying under Dominick DiOrio, Betsy Burleigh, Walter Huff, and Chris Albanese. Currently, Nick is the Artistic Director of the Lehigh Valley Chorale and the Interim Artistic Director of the Youth Pride Chorus.

33 Craig Hella Johnson et al., “Cattles, Horses, Sky, and Grass (Reprise)” in Considering Matthew Shepard (Austin, Texas: Conspirare, 2016), pp. 388 Figure 4: Excerpt from Cattles, Horses, Sky, and Grass (Reprise), measures 30–3533 Reprinted with permission of Booker Music, Austin, Texas. All rights reserved.

Book Reviews

Becoming the Choral Poet: Considerations and Techniques for the Advancing Conductor

GIA Publications, 2020

264 pages, soft cover $27.95

ISBN: 978-1-62277-452-4

The Choral Poet—a person who inspires others to express themselves communally in choral music with imaginative beauty and thought. … Through one’s mastery of the techniques of poetic expression as shaped by the composer, the conductor’s decisions can create a deeper sense of expressive intimacy and, as a result, enhance the composer’s aural metaphor” (from the Prologue). Jerry McCoy’s book explores the technical aspects of artistic music-making through thoughtful interpretation of poetry. A unique approach in choral singing, McCoy provides the conductor with strategies for developing a poetic analysis, techniques for the development of detailed musical decisions to support the interpretation, and effective techniques to realize a comprehensive artistic vision. The book comprises four chapters, each containing multiple subcategories, followed by several applicable appendices. Personal anecdotes, inspirational quotes, examples, and exercises create an engaging resource for any choral director who would like to explore the expressive potential of language in choral singing.

The first chapter, “The Conductor’s Poetic Imagination” discusses elements of poetry, musical elements influenced by text, composers’ methods for illuminating meaning, and decisions performers and directors must consider to further enhance expression. McCoy provides a phrase from a simple melody and discusses a spectrum of decisions for the director’s consideration in how the text may be sung: the use of glottal or easy onsets, the placement and range of microdynamics, the length of consonants, the color and shape of vowels, the voicing or aspiration of consonants, and the execution of diphthongs. This type of expressive singing is often organic to highly sensitive musicians. However, as McCoy points out, in an ensemble setting the conductor is responsible for developing an interpretation and communicating the technical aspects of expression and musicality to the ensemble in order to realize a coherent vision. McCoy cautions the reader to remember that the ensemble director’s decisions must always be in service of the music and the composer’s presentation of the text.

The second chapter begins with an apropos metaphor that likens the choral conductor’s interpretive role to the experience of viewing an Impressionistic painting. The ensemble director is


tasked with making many minute, highly detailed decisions to bring into existence a composite, comprehensive whole. Analyses are provided for four famous examples: At Her Fair Hands, My Spirit Sang All Day, Io Piango, and Domine Filii Unigenite. McCoy provides for each piece an Interpretive Analysis, which is the term he applies to the detailed musical decisions the conductor must make to realize a comprehensive artistic vision. In addition to a detailed interpretive analysis, each section includes exercises for the reader, topics for discussion and questions to consider.

In contrast to the preceding chapters, the next portion of the book focuses on the skills, techniques, and qualities the conductor must develop in their role as interpreter and Choral Poet. Chapter 3 contains sections on attributes of a successful choral conductor, alternative conducting patterns, auditions, choral seating formations, rehearsal techniques, vocal exercises, programming considerations, thoughts on the conductor’s ability to listen, and a phrasal study of Bist du bei mir . The vocal warm-ups and rehearsal techniques suggested in this chapter are a particularly useful tool for any ensemble leader. The exercises are creative, clearly described, and could be used with a variety of ensembles. The analysis of Bist du bei mir includes thoughtful considerations of the musicality required of the singers and technical exercises that may be utilized in rehearsal to achieve the aesthetic goals that serve the music and poetry. Ensemble leaders at the beginning of their career will find the section on repertoire selection and crafting a program particularly helpful.

includes a list of American choral composers producing exciting music in the past few decades, as well as a list of international contemporary choral gems listed by geographic location. Both sections include information on the publisher or the composer’s website so that the reader can access the scores.

Becoming the Choral Poet provides thoughtprovoking and useful technical information for directors of many types of choral ensembles and is primarily applicable to the work of conductors in training and those early in their career. Experienced ensemble leaders might also find the first two chapters, the later sections on rehearsal techniques, and the repertoire lists enlightening and informative. While many of the stories and examples are based in McCoy’s experience in academia, those who lead high school programs, professional ensembles, or church choirs will find the content and techniques applicable to their ensembles. It would be wonderful to get McCoy’s insight into specific textual/vocal/pedagogical issues that arise working with different types of ensembles, including youth, community, and religious ensembles. Readers might also wish to know McCoy’s values in selecting a text, or his rationale for selection the musical examples included in the book. McCoy’s ability to quantify how to make choral magic and his generosity in sharing his strategies, as well as inspiring quotes and stories woven throughout the book make this a fresh addition to your choral library.

— Katie Gardiner

Over the course of McCoy’s extensive experience and successful career, he has developed a wealth of resources. Chapter 4 is a compilation of words of wisdom, helpful lists, philosophical musings, and a few odd inclusions not necessarily related to the subject of Choral Poet. This chapter also

Katie Gardiner recently completed her doctoral degree in choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Dr. Gardiner has taught at Skidmore College, William College, and the University at Albany, and has recently served as instrumental director at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and cover conductor of the Carmel Symphony.


Music Discovery: Improvisation for the Large Ensemble and Music Classroom

Daniel J. Healy and Kimberly Lansinger Ankney Oxford University Press, 2020

224 pages, $24.95

ISBN: 9780190462079

The field of music education has long emphasized the importance of improvisation, enshrining it in the 1994 and 2014 national standards for our discipline. However, many director-teachers cite lack of comfort, expertise, and curricular time as primary barriers to including improvisation in their music classes and ensembles. These challenges are compounded in ensembles whose time is dedicated first and foremost to preparing repertoire for the next public performance. In Improvisation for the Large Ensemble and Music Classroom, Daniel J. Healy and Kimberly Lansinger Ankney seek to light the path to collective improvisation by addressing each of the concerns listed above through sample lesson plans, vignettes, and a diverse set of recordings, including several field recordings of ensembles working through the lessons and exercises.

Daniel Healy is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Education and Head of Music Education at Roosevelt University. Kimberly Lansinger Ankney is Assistant Professor and Director of Music Education at Christopher Newport University. Both authors studied at Northwestern University with Maud Hickey, a foremost expert on teaching and assessment of musical creativity through improvisation and composition. Separately and together, Healy and Lansinger have published articles on improvisation and creativity in several

trade journals including Psychology of Music, Music Educators Journal, Advances in Music Education Research , and the conference proceedings Envisioning Music Teacher Education.

In the introductory chapter, the authors outline the purpose of the book: to provide detailed yet flexible lessons and activities centered around core musical elements, coupled by detailed assessments and rich audio examples, all grounded in musical improvisation which they define as “any form of spontaneously expressed musical ideas” (5). They outline a series of claims that by engaging spontaneity in problem solving, improvisation leads to more meaningful musical discovery and helps individual musicians to “develop a sense of self or identity” (8–9). By bringing improvisation into the study of ensemble repertoire, students grow to understand the music more deeply and “teachers become more attuned to students’ natural music-making instincts” (11–13).

Section I continues with a summary of the common myths surrounding improvisation: it can’t be taught or assessed, it’s noise, it requires extensive training and experience to learn to improvise and especially to teach it. Section II, “Understanding Improvisational Teaching and Responsive Planning,” uses vignettes and examples to paint a picture of improvisation-based teaching within lessons and across units as well as opportunities and methods for assessment. Anticipating discomfort on the part of students, the authors include sections on responding to students’ experiences and encouraging flexibility, responsivity, and open-mindedness.

The core of the book is Section III, nearly 120 pages of lesson plans based around six core musical concepts: melody, harmony, rhythm, texture and timbre, articulation, dynamics. The authors make it clear here that most of these


exercises will not result in a performance piece; rather, they are improvisatory activities meant to hone student skills in the musical element being addressed. The chapter is structured so that each unit has six lesson plans: two levels each (beginner and intermediate) for instrumental/choral ensembles, jazz ensembles, and improvisation ensembles. According to the authors, instrumental and choral ensembles “for the sake of simplicity were merged into one category.” Although it is true that choral and instrumental ensembles share many goals and sensibilities, there are several exercises that will prove challenging for choirs without adaptation to account for singers’ range and need to audiate pitches before singing them.

Each lesson plan includes a description, list of required resources, step-by-step procedure, learning goals and benefits, assessments, and recordings and resources meant to demonstrate or inspire aspects of the activity. The procedures as written are generally quite clear and easy to follow or adapt as the situation requires, and the recommended recordings are diverse and plentiful. When needed, notated examples clarify lesson objectives, but unfortunately the book’s online resources do not include these examples in editable or reproducible formats, leaving teachers the task of re-notating materials as needed. The assessments could be more clearly and deeply described; the authors often list concepts teachers could assess formatively or summatively but rarely provide concrete rubrics or examples.

The authors make a point to say that improvisation exercises can be the focus of a lesson or unit, or can be sprinkled in briefly to save time. However, many lessons include steps for small-group experimentation and sharing out to the large group, which could be cumbersome and time consuming depending on the size and configuration of the ensemble and facilities. That being said, the authors do an excellent

job throughout the book of anticipating and responding to many of their readers’ worries about teaching improvisation. With this goal in mind, the authors conclude the book with Section IV: “Portals of Discovery,” which synthesizes the philosophies and practicalities of the book into a series of vignettes that help the reader to better visualize how and why they might approach this work in their own contexts.

Ultimately, choral directors looking for plans and materials to incorporate improvisation into their concerts should look elsewhere, as improvised performance is not the goal of the book. Healy and Ankney have made a strong case for improvisation as a powerful rehearsalclassroom tool that develops musical agency and creativity through intentional experimentation. In practice, collegiate conductors will need to be particularly thoughtful about adapting the choral lessons and materials to target the maturity level of older students, but may find promise in the sophistication of the lessons for improvisation ensemble. Although I still find myself worried about giving up rehearsal time on repertoire to work on improvisation, the proof (that doing so will improve the music-making in the long run) will be in the pudding, and Music Discovery provides ample guidance for those who are ready to adapt the lessons and assessments to suit their students. This book belongs on the shelves of conductor-teachers at all educational levels, along with the music education professors who train the next generation of conductor-teachers.

—Christopher G. McGinley

Christopher G. McGinley serves on the choral music education faculty at the University of WisconsinEau Claire where he directs the Singing Statesmen, Symphonic Choir, Novum Voce, and teaches Secondary Choral Methods. His research interests include choral improvisation, archival transcription, women composers, and historical pedagogy and performance practice.


Foundations of Conducting Technique

Frank Eychaner

GIA Publications, 2020

366 pages, hardcover only, $49.95

ISBN: 978-1-62277-437-1

When a conducting teacher selects a textbook for the students in their beginning conducting course, a wealth of options lay at their feet, from historical gems that have run to multiple editions to newer publications. Dr. Frank Eychaner’s Foundations of Conducting Technique, newly published in 2020, is a strong choice for the conducting teacher looking for a 21st-century approach to their instruction.

Possibly the most unique and newly practical tool Eychaner brings to the scholarly conducting textbook is the use of accompanying videos. At several points in each chapter, usually following a verbose, detailed description of a precise physical gesture (an unavoidable occurrence in any conducting text), Eychaner includes a QR code that, when scanned by a smartphone, links to a public YouTube video of himself demonstrating the corresponding physical gesture, with voiceover narration detailing the action. This is an invaluable resource; while the presence of an in-person conducting instructor is instrumental in translating any potentially confusing and cumbersome verbal descriptions of gesture into physical demonstration, here the student has the luxury of witnessing physical demonstration during their own independent reading. And while Eychaner’s verbal descriptions of gesture are clear for the most part, some elements of his writing on gesture may be difficult to understand (e.g. his description of the “impulse gesture” with regard to cues is particularly confusing). However, the

videos accompanying any of these descriptions clear up any confusion as he demonstrates physical mastery of each concept.

Aside from the use of QR codes and videos, the other novel touch offered by Eychaner’s text is a study of transformational leadership. Near the end of the text, he steps completely outside of the realm of technical conducting gesture and into the atmosphere of effective, inspiring leadership. How prescient that Eychaner, in finishing writing this book shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world of choral music on its head, would include material that would be so immensely relevant. He discusses the importance of relationships, the value of personal connection, and the true synergy between conductor and ensemble when the conductor is genuinely invested in each member’s mental and physical well-being. Other historically-established conducting texts may be excellent guides with regard to the fundamentals of gesture, but their sometimes direct or even authoritarian approach to the idea of ensemble leadership is in conflict with the needs of modern student ensembles. Eychaner’s approach is perfect for our current atmosphere.

Eychaner intentionally builds his text out of short, succinct chapters on specific elements of conducting in a way that allows for malleability; the instructor of a conducting course can skip chapters or reorganize them in any way necessary to fit the curriculum of an all-too-short academic semester. Taken in the order provided, however, Eychaner’s sequence of concepts is one that wisely emphasizes the importance of freedom of motion, internalization of musicality, and nonverbal communication over the technicality of conducting patterns. He espouses the Rudolf Laban school of movement analysis, filling the introductory chapters of his text with an overview of Laban’s “Effort Actions” with regard to Space, Weight, and Time, thoroughly


exploring the importance of different types of movement well before applying those ideas to a conducting pattern.

conducting, like any art, is a result of repeated exposure to important ideas, often from different perspectives and through different words.

When he does introduce pattern, Eychaner continues to stress the importance of internalization, claiming that the conductor should not consider a pattern or exercise fully prepared until it’s impossible for them to do it wrong. In addition, the illustrations in his text that outline various patterns are much more detailed and full of information than those of standard conducting books. By varying thickness and shading of lines and utilizing different shapes, the graphic insertions of the book express the different Laban Effort Actions one can apply to each pattern. Like some of the verbose gestural descriptions, this complex web of illustrative symbols can be difficult to take in initially; however, the linked videos clear up any misunderstandings in the illustrations in the same way they do for the prose.

It’s clear that Eychaner embraces the concept of repetition in teaching; this reveals itself not just in his instructions to students of conducting but in his writing as well. He repeats and reiterates ideas frequently, in a strategy he calls “spiraling.” He understands that foundational mastery of

A few of Eychaner’s opinions regarding gesture and pattern are unique, and some may give a conducting instructor pause. However, conducting is indeed a very personal art, and Eychaner qualifies each of his ideas as one of many options. He accepts that an individual’s conducting style is an amalgamation of many influences (books, instructors, directors), and his text is merely one of the reader’s influences. Viewed through that lens, Foundations of Conducting Technique is a strong introductory conducting text, one that uses modern tools and addresses the 21st-century beginning conductor with clarity, practicality, and confidence.

Dan Wessler is currently finishing his DMA in Choral Conducting and Literature from University of Colorado Boulder. From 2012-2020 he was Director of Choral Activities at Freeport High School in Freeport, Illinois. In addition, he is an active barbershop arranger, publisher, and performer, singing bass in After Hours, the 2018 International Barbershop Quartet Champions.

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