Notes & texts



Poem for 2084


My breath has become water.

Chokecherries and wild roses

grow from the ashes of my bones.


You who wake in human form,

healthy and vigorous,

above the root-shaped rocks,


take heart, evolutionary spirits,

many feared

you would never appear.


If the rivers and oceans

have begun to purify,

if the lead contaminated earth


has begun to heal,

if the mind has grown

less separate from other minds,


rejoice - call

your family and friends

to hear these words


of a dead poet:

gather rosehips for tea,

share bread with chokecherry jelly...


—Joan Wolf Prefontaine


Marvellous Error!


Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvellous error!—

that a spring was breaking

out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct, Oh water, are you coming to me, water of a new life

that I have never drunk?


Last night, as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvellous error!— that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.


Last night, as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvellous error!— that a fiery sun was giving

light inside my heart.

It was fiery because I felt warmth as from a hearth,

and sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.


Last night, as I slept,

I dreamt—marvellous error!— that it was God I had

here inside my heart.


—Poetry by Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly


James Shrader


Angels Sang With Mirth and Glee


Much of my compositional output occurs around the Advent and Christmas seasons. I am usually attracted to or thinking of a particular text, and eventually a tune, harmonization, or structure emerges and I set about creative endeavors. So it is with this piece, often known as “When Christ Was Born of Mary Free,” or Christo paremus canticam, Excelsis Gloria.


Some scholars cite this as the hymn sung by the angels to the shepherds at the Nativity and may perhaps be the earliest Christmas carol. It is found in an old manuscript among the Harleian collection in the British Museum, possibly dating from about 1500. There is some evidence that it could be dated as early as 1456.


In the carols of this period, Latin phrases are often interspersed among the English vernacular. These are known as macaronic carols, of which this is a prime example with the verses in English and the refrain in Latin. Traditionally, this carol would have been sung at midnight on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas morning.


Musically, I composed a strophic setting of the text employing some contemporary harmonic techniques for variety.  The first three verses comprise an informative section with the choir as narrator recounting the story. The first verse is an introductory setting of the tune to be revisited in each verse with different harmonic treatments. The second verse features the upper voices in a rhythmic background with the tune presented in the lower voices. The third verse employs a harmonic ostinato in the lower voices using the Latin word Veni (Come) and the tune appearing in the top voice. In each verse, the Latin refrain, in the same homo-rhythmic and harmonic treatment, is repeated.


For the final verse, the choir leaves the narration and assumes the affective feelings of the text writer. Musically, this forms a gentle and inspiring chorale. The ending of the piece touches a bit of polyphony on the final Latin refrain. The soft conclusion signifies the awesomeness of the season as the resolution is almost left in suspension, as if the angels were gently flying away.


— James Shrader




The Antioch Chamber Ensemble sang the New York City premiere of "Be Still" in 2016.


Haga Motettkör of Göteborg, Sweden sang the European premiere of "Be Still" in 2013.



Be still and know that I am God. - Psalm 46:10


Be Still for a cappella choir was composed in 2012 for Director of Music James Walker and Coventry Choir of All Saints Church, Pasadena. The congregation had recently begun a series contemplative services consisting of only music and candlelight, with no speaking of any kind. This piece premiered at a Lenten evensong in 2013. The entire text is “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10. The challenge was to create a five-minute piece from only eight words. The choir is frequently divided into eight parts to create shimmering textures. Be Still is dedicated to the memory of my friend Stuart Coxhead, a great lover of choral music and a priest on the staff at All Saints Church.


— Bruce Babcock


Jonathan Sheffer


The y’did nefesh is a piyut, which is a liturgical poem that is part of a religious service. This poem was written by R. Elazar Azkari in the 16th Century in Sfat, which was one of the five holy cities of Judaism. This exceedingly emotional work, one that pleads for a diving union through love, is rich in longing and supplication. It is considered a worthy successor to the more overtly erotic Song of Songs from the book of Solomon.


It was first performed by an amateur choir at my synagogue in New York, as part of what I hope may become a larger kabbalat Shabbat service.


Yedid nefesh av harachaman meshoch avdach el retzonach
Yarutz avdach kemo ayal yishtachaveh el mul hadarach
Ki ye’erav lo yedidutach minofet tzuf vechol ta’am
Hadur na’eh ziv haolam nafshi cholat ahavatach
Ana el na refa na lah beharot lah noam zivach
Az titchazek vetitrapeh vehayta lach shifchat olam
Vatik yehemu rachamecha vechusa na al ben ahuvach
Ki zeh khameh nichsof nichsaf lirot betiferet uzach
Ana Eli machmad libi chusha na ve’al titalam
Higaleh na u’fros haviv alai et sukkat shelomach
Tair eretz mikevodach nagila venismecha bach
Maher ahuv ki ba moed vechonenu kimei olam

Beloved of my soul, Merciful Father / draw your servant after your will
Your servant would run swift as a deer / to kneel before Your splendor
For Your love is sweeter to him / than honey nectar and all pleasing savor
Exalted Glorious Beautiful Light of the World / my soul is love-sick for You
Please, My God, please heal her / by showing her the beauty of Your radiance
Then she will be strengthened and healed / and be Your maidservant forever
Ancient One arouse Your mercy / spare the son of Your beloved friend
For he has a long time longed to behold / the magnificence Your might
Please, My God, My Heart’s Delight, / oh come quickly do not forsake me
Reveal Yourself my dearest / and spread over me Your canopy of peace
Let the earth be illuminated with Your glory / let us be delighted and rejoice in You
Make haste my beloved for the time has come / show me Your favor as in the days of old


— Jonathan Sheffer


christopher j. hoh


To Elliott:  Homage to Maestro Carter on His Centenary


Elliott Carter’s music always gripped me.  Sometimes enrapturing, sometimes unnerving, other times delightful or vexing, his work never failed to awe my ears and mind.  He was direct and true to his convictions, neither condescending to his audience nor ignoring their experience of listening.  Although I never met Carter in person, his large and varied output made him a hero to me.  When he was still going strong at age 100, I was inspired to write this poem.


I already had in mind some companion for “To Music” — Carter’s choral setting of a Robert Herrick verse beloved of composers.  I thought rather than “charm me asleep,” however, I would urge “charm me awake” and riff on music’s power to animate, transport, and transcend.  This concept evolved into an ode to musical creativity in general and Elliott Carter specifically.  I penned the lines and sketched a few musical ideas, starting with the same opening notes as “To Music.”


 That was in winter of 2008-09, when I thought this would be a good composition project for the following summer.  But as things turned out, I was sent to Vienna Austria for my next diplomatic assignment.  In that rush and the press of my new job, this project fell by the wayside.  Then in 2012, shortly after my return to the United States, the news came that Elliott Carter had passed on.  He had continued composing into his final year, at 103 years old.  It was sad to think we would not hear new Carter works, but what a life to celebrate and what a legacy of music!  I pulled out my sketches and wrote this little piece for chorus, entitling it To Elliott.


 I’d like to think the music speaks for itself.  There are three short verses, the first and third similar, the second contrasting, plus a coda.  It’s a choral madrigal, with harmony that ranges widely.  Suffice to say there’s a lot going on with the notes, aimed at enhancing and elaborating the text.  The result requires a good chorus, so I was delighted when Donald Nally and The Crossing decided to take up the challenge for this 2018 recording.  I hope listeners find it animating and transcendent in difficult times, inspired by that brilliant example of energy and integrity, Elliott Carter.




Charm me awake...

Your music may me take

On flights of fancy free,

Where, presto, I may see



Sing me alive...

'Though earthly cares me drive,

Your cosmic, newborn sound

Revives, so now I'm found

Skyward bound!


Play me again...

Vibrations ten times ten

Endure throughout your score,

Whose harmony shall soar



     Christopher J. Hoh (1959 - ), August 2008

           after the poem of Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674),

           "To Music, to becalm his Fever," which was set

            for chorus in 1936 by Elliott Carter, 1908 - 2012


My Mistress' Eyes


"My Mistress' Eyes" is a fun and funny choral showpiece.  It begins, like Shakespeare's sonnet and like many of the poems he spoofs, with elated contemplation of the lady-love's visage.  Big, sustained, repeated chords wallow in images of her eyes.  But then the music takes an unexpected turn, as does the text.  In the first verse, sopranos and altos describe her features against a steady, almost obsessive accompaniment from tenor and basses.  The roles reverse for the second part of this verse.  And these descriptions are certainly not typical paeans to beauty!  The second verse changes, offering lyrical lines and pretty music for pictures of roses, etc. before the harmony and words run into a surprise cadence.


The third verse begins like the first, but turns from rhapsodic to hymn at "a goddess" with imitative entrances (technically a little stretto).  The final section, which comes to a happy ending, echoes the introduction, building on the word "compare" and leading to lines I brazenly added.  With these, the chorus recalls features of the inamorata and closes proclaiming love so rare.  This composition was commissioned for a June 2014 Shakespeare concert by the ensemble Meistersingers of Orange County CA, Brian Dehn, founder and artistic director.





My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.


I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.


I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:


     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

     As any she belied with false compare.


(Compare my mistress —

My mistress' cheeks, her breath that reeks, her wiry hair;

By heaven above I think my love is rare.)



William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616

Sonnet 130

Final three lines above added by the composer


Christopher J. Hoh

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