Sacred Song

ensemble a capella SATB choir
duration ~6:31
score PDF, 181KB
performance history 05/02/1994 (undergraduate senior recital) by The Volunteer Chorus: Andrea Allmayer, Susan Amory, Michele Besso, Christopher D. Clement (solo 2), Abigail Cleveland, Karen Emerson, Michael A. Fasano, Andrew Guthrie, Vivian Holfeld, Catherine Karkosak, Catherine Knieser, Jason Knight, Meredith Moore, Matthew Noll, Michael Ostroff, Eliza Ross, Monica Schierbaum, Kathleen Schmitz, Jeannette Schuler, Michael Shaw, Patricia G. Stewart, Wendell Price (solo 1), and Jason M. Gottshall (conductor)
date completed 1993


Asking an a capella choir to sing a piece like this is asking a lot. Add to that the fact that I intentionally tried to have subsets of the voices sing against each other simultaneously, and that just makes it harder. I spent almost six months writing this piece, and ended up creating something so complicated that it was beyond my ability to conduct the performance. This was the final piece in my recital, and the entire chorus rehearsed up until the time that they performed. (Literally: all of those people heard nothing else of the recital. That’s dedication.)

It fits with the rest of the pieces in this era – neurotic and ambitious. Simultaneous polytonal melodies, chromatic thirds, some intervallic combinations that would be hard for any group to perform confidently. This piece lies somewhere between unbridled youthful exuberance and reckless ignorance. It’s a credit to the group—and the conductor—that it went as well as it did. Only a larger and more experienced group (this was a collection of volunteers) would have an easier time of it in this piece.

The lyrics came from equal parts Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and the Bible, but order and emphasis are mine. In the end, I couldn’t tell if it was supporting religion or railing against it.

Sacred Song

(Text from The Prophet appears in italics.)

I cannot teach you how to pray in words.
There are those who have the truth within them,
but they tell it not in words.

Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal,
thou shalt not curse,
thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not think,
thou shalt not die.
Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.
And who was not found
written in the book of Life,
was cast into the lake of fire.
And the voice of the messenger
shall no more be heard.
Only when you drink from the river of slience shall you indeed sing.
So he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
“Your body is the harp of your soul, it is yours to bring forth sweet music or confused sounds.”

Thou shalt not hear, thou shalt not speak,
thou shalt not see,
thou shalt not teach, thou shalt not pray,
thou shalt not die!
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
to the earth you shall return,
for Life and Death are one.
Children, woe to them who have gone
gone the way of Cain,
for God is a consuming fire.
Hearing, ye shall hear –
ye shall not understand.
Seeing, ye shall see –
ye shall not perceive.
Searching, ye shall search –
ye shall not find.
Thinking, ye shall ask –
ye shall be abandoned.
The voice of one crying alone in the wilderness.
No one man can change the world.
The cornerstone of the temple is not higher than the foundation stone.
I cannot teach you how to pray in words.