What Is Ours

Music for an America in Progress

Carlos Cordero composer
Andrea Ramsey composer
Reena Esmail composer
John William Griffith II composer
Leigha Amick composer
Moira Smiley composer
Joel Thompson composer
Dominick DiOrio composer

NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio director
Roger Roe English horn

Release Date: December 9, 2022
Catalog #: NV6484
Format: Digital
21st Century
Vocal Music
Large Ensemble

There are generally two ways one can face a crisis. One can give up, or one can persevere and use it to one’s advantage. Choir director Dominick DiOrio definitely chose the latter during the pandemic, turning his reflections and sentiments about it into a profoundly engaging, almost philosophical choral album titled WHAT IS OURS. DiOrio conjures a formidable cross-section of music by a range of contemporary composers that not only reflects the diversity and multiplicity of modern-day America, but also its underbelly of struggle, challenge, and an eventual triumph of humanity.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 ¡Ayúdame! (Venezuelan Plea for Life) Carlos Cordero NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Robert Darling, bass drum 5:09
02 Stomp on the Fire Andrea Ramsey NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director 2:53
03 Tuttarana Reena Esmail NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director 3:02
04 first light John William Griffith II NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Luke Acerra, cello 8:11
05 Night Sky Songs: I. The Dark Leigha Amick NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Jenna Kreider, soprano; Liz Culpepper, mezzo-soprano 4:25
06 Night Sky Songs: II. The Other Side of the Valley Leigha Amick NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Jenna Kreider, soprano; Liz Culpepper, mezzo-soprano 5:28
07 It Takes Your Breath Away Dominick DiOrio Roger Roe, English horn 9:06
08 Wire You Here Moira Smiley NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Elizabeth Queen, soprano; Nicholas Sienkiewicz, tenor; Erina Buchholz, violin; Ursula Steele, viola; Andrew Johnson, cello; Robert Darling, percussion 3:35
09 America Will Be! Joel Thompson NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Chase Sanders, soprano; Deepa Johnny, mezzo-soprano 5:48
10 A Chain is Broken Dominick DiOrio NOTUS | Dominick DiOrio, director; Nicholas Stevens, tenor; Erina Buchholz, violin; Rees Taylor Roberts, piano 5:07

NOTUS Roster, January 2022 (Tracks 1-3 & 8-10)
Jessica Bittner; David Boeckh; Jillian Boes; Elijah Buerk; Jake Cozza; Sara Dailey; Andrew Durham; Seare Farhat; Samuel Grace, assistant conductor; Kate Hamori; Catarine Hancock; Kira Hanger; Deepa Johnny; Hunter T. Johnson; Peter Kadeli, assistant conductor; Alex Koppel, assistant conductor; Shannon Lally; Zac Leung; Caio Lopes, assistant conductor; John Morrow; Matthias Murphy; Kathryn Peterson; Marcus Peterson; Howell Petty; Biana Pinchuk; Elizabeth Queen; Rees Taylor Roberts, rehearsal pianist; Lilian Rona; Chase Sanders; Nicholas Sienkiewicz; Eirene Stavropoulos; Nicholas Stevens; Kahan Taraporevala; Sergey Tkachenko; Alexander Toth; Savanna Webber

NOTUS Roster, February 2020 (Tracks 4-6)
Lawrence Abernathy, assistant conductor, Night Sky Songs soloist; Hayley Abramowitz, Night Sky Songs soloist; Anna Ambartsumian; Leigha Amick; Charles Banta; Jessica Bittner, Night Sky Songs soloist; Katherine Bodor; Jillian Boes, Night Sky Songs soloist; Elijah Bowen, Night Sky Songs soloist; Josh Catanzaro; Michael Colman; Jake Cozza; Liz Culpepper, Night Sky Songs soloist; Christina Dragnea, Night Sky Songs soloist; Anthony Ferreira; Karli Forte, first light soloist; Katie Gardiner, assistant conductor; John William Griffith II; Katherine Holobinko, first light soloist; Lauren Jewell; Ryn Jorgensen; Noah Klein
Jenna Kreider, Night Sky Songs soloist; Matthew Li; Rebecca Luppe, rehearsal pianist; Amane Machida; Brandon Magid; Sam Mathis, first light soloist; Jack Pellegrini; Deanna Pellerano; Marcus Peterson; Matt Ridge; Jeff Sabol; Brandan Sanchez; Cheng Tang; Eli Tash; Natasha Viener; Sarah Ward, Night Sky Songs soloist; Jesse Warren

Tracks 1-3, 8-10 (recorded with singers in masks)
Recorded January 29, 2022 at Ione B. Auer Concert Hall, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, in Bloomington IN
Producers D. James Tagg, Dominick DiOrio
Mixing, Mastering & Lead Audio Engineer D. James Tagg
Assistant Audio Engineers Kevin Shima, Han-Wei Hsing, Grace Leckey

Tracks 4-6 (recorded without masks)
Recorded February 22, 2020 at Ione B. Auer Concert Hall, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, in Bloomington IN
Producers D. James Tagg, Dominick DiOrio
Mixing, Mastering & Lead Audio Engineer D. James Tagg
Assistant Audio Engineers Jozef Caldwell, Heoliny Jung

Track 7
Recorded May 20, 2022 at Ione B. Auer Concert Hall, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, in Bloomington IN
Producers D. James Tagg, Dominick DiOrio
Mixing, Lead Audio Engineer D. James Tagg

Mastering D. James Tagg

It Takes Your Breath Away
Poetry reading by Margie McCreless Roe
Additional spoken voices contributed by Gordon, Patsy, Karen, Russell, Lou, Theo, and Roger Roe

Wire You Here
Spoken reflections were recorded individually and contributed voluntarily by Hayley Abramowitz, Leigha Amick, Jessica Bittner, Katherine Bodor, Jillian Boes, Michael Colman, Liz Culpepper, Karli Forte, John William Griffith II, Lauren Jewell, Ryn Jorgensen, Rebecca Luppe, Amane Machida, Moira Smiley

Texts for Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 8 were created by and copyright to the individual composers respectively, and they are used here with their permission.

Text for Track 7 by Margie McCreless Roe and excerpted from No Season for Silence: Texas Poets and Pandemic, Copyright © 2020 Kallisto Gaia Press. All rights reserved and used with permission.

Original text for Track 10 © Copyright 2019 Khashayar Tonekaboni. All rights reserved and used with permission.

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Jacob Smith

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. FlemingMorgan Hauber
Publicity Patrick Niland

Artist Information



Winner of The American Prize in Choral Performance (2019), NOTUS is one of the country’s most unique collegiate vocal ensembles, with a singular commitment to championing living composers through the commissioning, programming, and recording of new works. Directed by conductor-composer Dominick DiOrio and a curricular ensemble at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, NOTUS has performed across the nation, from regional and national ACDA conferences to Carnegie Hall. In September of 2018, NOTUS released their first commercial album on the Innova label, NOTUS: Of Radiance and Refraction, which includes five world premiere recordings by IU faculty composers. NOTUS was honored to be one of only 24 choirs in the world invited to perform at the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music before it was canceled due to the pandemic. As part of the honor of being invited to the Symposium, NOTUS was named an IFCM Ambassador in 2022 by the International Federation for Choral Music.

Dominick DiOrio

Composer, Conductor

Dominick DiOrio (b. 1984) is a conductor and composer who has won widespread acclaim for his contributions to American music. He has been recognized with The American Prize in both Choral Composition (2014) and Choral Performance (2019, with NOTUS). Since 2012, he has been a member of the choral conducting faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he serves as Professor of Choral Conducting and leads the select, new-music chamber chorus NOTUS. DiOrio has conducted ensembles around the world, from the Houston Chamber Choir and Choral Arts Initiative in the United States to Allmänna Sången and Ars Veritas abroad. In July 2020, he became the 14th Artistic Director & Conductor of the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia.

Roger Roe

English horn

Roger Roe is adjunct associate professor of oboe and English horn at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Active as a performer in chamber, recital, and orchestral settings, he has served as English horn and assistant principal oboe of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) since 1995, following positions with the orchestras of Honolulu HI, and Charleston SC. His many students have gone on from IU to perform in orchestras and other ensembles around the world as well as to careers in many other fields.

Roe has appeared as soloist with the ISO and other orchestras on oboe, oboe d’amore, and English horn as well as narrator and creative director for children’s concerts. In recent years, he has played chamber music concerts in locations as far-flung as Israel and Bulgaria in addition to recitals and master classes around the United States. He champions new music for oboe and English horn, having premiered several new pieces and commissioned new works. He is also interested in theatricality and improvisation in music and other arts as well as the intersection of music and spirituality, enjoying recent collaborations with ministers, rabbis, dancers, actors, singers, poets, and others on various liturgical and scholarly projects.

Roe is a native Texan and graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Arts, Southern Methodist University, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. His major teachers included Eric Barr and the legendary John Mack.

Carlos Cordero


Hola, People! My name is Carlos Cordero. I am a new choral music advocate, composer, hug-giver, and singer with a crazy mind. My passion for new choral music and connecting with others has led me to create meaningful experiences and relationships, including recently writing “Holding Our Breath” with poet Julie Flanders commissioned by ACDA’s Genesis Prize. I love writing music for choirs, which is why I created my brand The Happy Choir. Recent commissions include Chorus Austin, Salt Lake Vocal Artists, Ensemble Companio, Panoramic Voices, among others. I also write for instruments, just less often! My pieces have traveled around the world, including America, Europe, and Asia, allowing me to grow as an artist and collaborate with amazing communities.

I am currently working as a full-time composer, enjoying the journey of connecting with others through choral music, as well as advocating for choral composers and choirs through The Happy Composer Commission Project. Most of my scores are self-published on my website, The Happy Choir. Hal Leonard, Panamusica, E.C. Schirmer, and Selah Publishing publish some of my scores too.  I am originally from Venezuela, a beautiful country with delicious food where I got to be a choral conductor and music educator at El Sistema. I currently live in Austin, Texas, with my husband, Ryan Heller. I hold an M.M. in Composition from the University of Houston, as well as a B.M. and a Specialization in Composition from Universidad Católica Cecilio Acosta.

Andrea Ramsey


Andrea Ramsey enjoys an international presence as a composer, conductor, scholar, and music educator. Her teaching experiences range from work with adolescent and children’s voices to high school and collegiate voices. She enjoys regular opportunities to conduct all-state and divisional level honor choirs, festival events at Carnegie Hall, and serves as a principal conductor for the Pacific International Young Women’s Choral Festival in Eugene OR. Before leaping into full time composing and guest conducting, Ramsey held positions in music education and conducting at Ohio State University and the University of Colorado, respectively. An ASCAPlus award-winning composer, Ramsey believes strongly in the creation of new works.

Her compositions are available with traditional publishers and also through MusicSpoke, a digital sheet music marketplace. She enjoys residency collaborations with ensembles and festival choirs, some of which have included: the Allegro Choirs of Kansas City, Ithaca College, and the Crescent City Choral Festival in New Orleans. As a scholar, she has presented for state, divisional, and national conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, the 6th Annual Symposium on Sociology in Music Education, as well as The Phenomenon Singing Symposium in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. She has co-authored articles published in the Choral Journal, as well as the Journal of Research in Music Education. A native of Arkansas, she has experienced — in her own life — the power of music to provide a sense of community, better understanding of our humanity, and rich opportunities for self-discovery.

Reena Esmail


Indian-American composer Reena Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music, and brings communities together through the creation of equitable musical spaces. Esmail’s life and music was profiled on Season 3 of PBS Great Performances series Now Hear This, as well as Frame of Mind, a podcast from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Esmail divides her attention evenly between orchestral, chamber and choral work. She has written commissions for ensembles including the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Seattle Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Kronos Quartet, and her music has featured on multiple Grammy-nominated albums, including The Singing Guitar by Conspirare, BRUITS by Imani Winds, and Healing Modes by Brooklyn Rider. Many of her choral works are published by Oxford University Press. Esmail is the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2020-2025 Swan Family Artist in Residence, and was Seattle Symphony’s 2020-21 Composer-in-Residence. She also holds awards/fellowships from United States Artists, the S&R Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Kennedy Center.

Esmail holds degrees in composition from The Juilliard School (BM’05) and the Yale School of Music (MM’11, MMA’14, DMA’18). Her primary teachers have included Susan Botti, Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Theofanidis, Christopher Rouse and Samuel Adler. She received a Fulbright-Nehru grant to study Hindustani music in India. Her Hindustani music teachers include Srimati Lakshmi Shankar and Gaurav Mazumdar, and she currently studies and collaborates with Saili Oak. Her doctoral thesis, entitled Finding Common Ground: Uniting Practices in Hindustani and Western Art Musicians explores the methods and challenges of the collaborative process between Hindustani musicians and Western composers. Esmail was Composer-in-Residence for Street Symphony (2016-18) and is currently an Artistic Director of Shastra, a non-profit organization that promotes cross-cultural music connecting music traditions of India and the West. She currently resides in her hometown of Los Angeles, California.

John William Griffith II


John William Griffith II (b. 1997) is a composer from South Bend IN. His music has been described as “celebratory, expressive of a party, of life being enjoyed” (Bloomington Herald-Times). A composer, pianist, and conductor, Griffith is a 2020 graduate of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. He is currently pursuing a masters degree in music composition at the Royal College of Music, London. Griffith began composition lessons with Jorge Muñiz in 2014 at Indiana University South Bend. At IU Bloomington, his primary mentors included Don Freund, Claude Baker, and Aaron Travers. He studied choral and opera composition with the late Sven-David Sandström, film scoring with Larry Groupé, and sang as a tenor in the NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble directed by Dominick DiOrio. In 2017, Griffith was commissioned by the IU Cinema to compose an original score for the 1926 silent film The Strong Man, for which he conducted the live-to-picture performance with a 14-piece ensemble. He was awarded first prize in the 2020 NOTUS Composition Competition, with his piece first light premiered by the ensemble in February of that year.

Later that spring, he completed his first opera, The Jungle, based on the novel by Upton Sinclair. The work was commissioned by IU’s New Voices Opera, and is scheduled for a virtual premiere in the fall of 2021. With a passion for orchestral music, Griffith is a two-time winner of the IU Composition Department’s New Voices for Orchestra Competition. His works Gezellig (2017) and Snowmass (2019) were premiered by the IU Concert Orchestra under the baton of David Dzubay. Along with his compositional activities, Griffith maintains a diverse performance background as a pianist, chorister, and conductor. While at IU, he conducted works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Copland, Haydn, and Dvořák with self-organized ad hoc ensembles. He also routinely conducts chamber and choral works by his colleagues, in addition to his own works, and has served as a pianist in several new music recitals. Over the years, Griffith has attended a handful of workshops and festivals, including the Nadia Boulanger European American Musical Alliance in Paris, France; the C4 Choral Singers of New York young composers workshop; ChoralArts Initiative of Orange County PREMIERE|Project Festival; and the International Conducting Workshop and Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Leigha Amick


Composer Leigha Amick (b.1997) draws inspiration from nature, mathematics, and stories.  Her compositions have been performed by ensembles including the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the Boulder Philharmonic, the Orlando Philharmonic, the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, the Playground Ensemble, NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and the Ars Nova Singers. She has studied at summer programs including the European American Musical Alliance (EAMA), the IRCAM Contemporary Music Creation, and Critique program through CIEE. EAMA awarded her the highest recognition in Counterpoint, Harmony, and Solfège. New Voices Opera recently premiered Rhiannon’s Condemnation: a one-act chamber opera based on a medieval Welsh legend from The Mabinogion for which Amick wrote both the libretto and the music. Amick is an active performer of new music as a violinist and soprano.

At Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, she performed with NOTUS under the direction of Dominick DiOrio, and in 2018, she sang in IU Opera and Ballet Theater’s production of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.  While in Indiana, she studied voice with Judith Malafronte and Julia Bentley. In addition to her musical endeavors, Amick is a former Irish Step dancer, and danced at the 2021 North American Irish Dance Championships. Amick is currently pursuing graduate studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, studying with Amy Beth Kirsten, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Nick DiBerardino, Richard Danielpour, and Steve Mackey.  She received her Bachelor of Music in composition with highest distinction from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, completing minors in mathematics and electronic music.  At IU, she studied composition with David Dzubay, Aaron Travers, Claude Baker, Sven-David Sandström, and Don Freund.  Before college, she studied with Daniel Kellogg and John Drumheller of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Moira Smiley


Singer, composer, song-collector, and IU historical performance program alumnus Moira Smiley (b. 1976) has sung in arenas, cathedrals, kitchens, back porches, sound stages, and on glaciers. She’s performed with the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Tune-Yards, Tim O’Brien, Eric Whitacre, Los Angeles Master Chorale, New World Symphony, Solas, and The Lyris String Quartet. Smiley’s original compositions, choral arrangements, and folk music are being sung by millions of voices around the world today. As a composer, Smiley is known worldwide for choral arrangements like Bring Me Little Water, Silvy and originals, Stand in That River and How Can I Cry.

She’s in demand as a commissioned composer, writing multi-movement pieces like Time In Our Voices and In The Desert With You for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Vonnegut Requiem: Light Perpetual for Voces Novae, Loud My Soul for Ad Astra Festival, and Headwaters for The Myrna Loy Theater. In 2018-2019, Smiley released the album and choral songbook, Unzip The Horizon as companion to her The Voice Is A Traveler solo show. She continues composing and improvising in collaboration with artists in film, video game production, theater, and dance, and her work can be heard on feature film soundtracks, BBC and PBS television programs, NPR, and on more than 70 commercial albums. Upcoming premieres and current projects include a modern re-telling of Ovid’s tale of Narcissus for mobile phones/voices and a commission for mirabai ensemble directed by Sandra Snow; as well as residencies & performances around the world.

Joel Thompson


Joel Thompson (b. 1988) is an Atlanta composer, pianist, conductor, and educator best known for his choral work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed which was premiered in November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and Dr. Eugene Rogers which won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition. Thompson is currently pursuing his D.M.A. in composition at the Yale School of Music. In 2017 he was a post-graduate fellow in Arizona State University’s Projecting All Voices Initiative and a composition fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School. That year he also won the Hermitage Prize.  His music has been performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Master Chorale, Los Angeles Mas Chorale, EXIGENCE, VocalEssence, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. His opera, The Snowy Day, based on the book by Ezra Jack Keats, premiered December 2021 at the Houston Grand Opera.


Note from the Conductor

When I originally envisioned this program, it was to be performed as part of our tour to New Zealand as part of the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music in July 2020. We were to be ambassadors for our country on the international stage singing music written by a diverse array of American composers. While we were ultimately unable to travel around the globe, we did get to present this music and this program together in February of 2022 as part of the American Choral Directors Association Midwestern Conference at the Harris Theater in Chicago, after we had returned to in-person singing.

And yet since then, so much has changed. We have collectively experienced incredible pain and trauma related to both the COVID-19 pandemic and to a far-too-late reckoning of racial injustice. While this program was conceived in many ways for an earlier time that no longer exists, its music still resonates in this now era, our next normal. To really think about “what is ours” and what we can claim, we must reflect not only on our collective histories, but also on our shared individual stories of suffering, resilience, catharsis, and joy.

And so we sing Carlos Cordero’s plea for aid for a humanitarian crisis in his native Venezuela. We sing Andrea Ramsey’s triumphant struggle to “stomp on the fire” as we move through pain into joy. We sing Reena Esmail’s exuberant prayer for healing, as we are reminded that “we are all Tarana.” We sing with John William Griffith and Breyten Breytenbach of our “first light” in the morning after fog. We sing the words of Idris Caffey and Leigha Amick’s “Night Sky Songs” to quiet and commune with our inner anxieties. We sing Moira Smiley’s hypnotic anthem for connection beyond our devices (somehow written in December of 2019, before we knew how much we would have to come to rely on them). We sing Joel Thompson’s prescient and prophetic hope for a better tomorrow, in the nearly a dozen languages of the high school students who first sang the premiere. And we sing Khashayar Tonekaboni’s words as an immigrant himself, who came to America to find opportunity and a future free of oppression.

And in the middle, we welcome english horn artist Roger Roe to give voice to our collective grieving in the words of his family’s resident poet, Margie McCreless Roe (and with the voices of Roger and his family reading midway through), as they meditate with us on our musings, our masks, and our origins.

This is “music for an America in progress,” yes, as America has always — and will continue to be — in progress. The work of governing ourselves is never done and never to be taken for granted. America is still being built, and we celebrate this glorious, multifarious, colorful, and joyful building with each and every song and each and every story.

— Dominick DiOrio, conductor

When was the last time you were hungry and could not immediately eat? Thirsty, and could not find water for hours? This is heartbreaking: to see my country, my family, suffering. I come from Venezuela and I did go through difficult times. Since I could not do much from where I was to help, I decided to fight my pain. I asked myself all the questions and cried while working on my desk, so comfortable yet feeling so guilty and helpless. When was the last time you were sick and could not find the medicine to feel better or even to keep living??

– Carlos Cordero

The composer has dedicated the work “to my country Venezuela and its people, who battle a humanitarian crisis.”

Stomp on the Fire was conceptualized as an entirely human work, using only the sounds of the voice and the percussive sounds of the body to create an expression of our collective human journey. The form of the work is encapsulated in three distinct sections. The opening has a mournful quality — an impassioned wail or cry for humanity. The second section begins a weary struggle against human injustice. This portion grows and layers, becoming quite frenetic at its peak. After a percussive transition, the third section appears. In major, this section is meant to represent the beautiful diversity of humanity and the strength present when that diversity comes together in unity. The rhythmic figures from earlier are mirrored in the third section, but in major, and with a sense of strength and cooperation rather than angst. The metaphorical fire is extinguished by the whole of the choir, together, in the final bars of the work.

– Andrea Ramsey

Stomp on the Fire was commissioned by the San Jose State University Choraliers and Diablo Valley Chamber Singers, Dr. Jeffrey Benson and Bret Peppo, conductors, and is dedicated to Kevin Redrico.

The title of this piece is a conglomeration of two words: the Italian word “tutti,” means “all” or “everyone,” and the term “tarana” designates a specific Hindustani (North Indian) musical form, whose closest Western counterpart is “scat” in jazz. Made up of rhythmic syllables, a tarana is the singer’s chance to display agility and dexterity. While a Hindustani tarana is a solo form, I wanted to bring the tarana into an ensemble setting.

Tuttarana was commissioned by the Mount Holyoke College Glee Club for their 2014-15 season, and has since been performed across the United States, and in arrangements for SATB and brass quintet.

An addendum: Three years after I wrote this piece, the #metoo movement, created by Tarana Burke, broke on social media. It occurred to me that the title of this piece, if read a different way, literally means “We are all Tarana.” I couldn’t believe the incredible coincidence that this work, a powerful 3-minute tidal wave of sound, written for an all-female ensemble from the oldest women’s college in the country, bore this name. I’m so grateful for what this movement has done to move the discussion forward about the horrors we face as women, and how we can begin to change and heal our society.

– Reena Esmail

For a long time, I have wanted to compose a piece for mixed choir and violoncello to merge the singing qualities of both musical forces into one unified work. Truly, the cello sings, and it encompasses essentially the full range of the human voice on one instrument. Its limitation, obviously, is its inability to produce the vowels and consonants needed to form human language. When choir and cello combine, a fresh and colorful sound world emerges.

The poetry of Breyten Breytenbach is saturated with themes of love, longing, and perhaps even loss. In my interpretation of first light, I imagine an encounter between two kindred spirits, waking up to the morning dawn, wrapped in the comfort of each other’s warm bodies. Perhaps they have known one another for a long time, or perhaps they have only just met. Regardless, there is something special between them. I sometimes use an antiphonal quality in the choir between higher and lower voices to depict these two individuals, with the cello weaving a bond between them. This creates a more cohesive and fluid musical texture, symbolic of their interwoven spirits lying with one another.

Before ascending to what I consider the poem’s emotional apex — the line: “will you own me still?”— I incorporated a brief solo for the cello. A solo is an inherently exposed act, one of profound vulnerability. In this case, it prepares us for a question of equal vulnerability, focusing our attention on the hopes and fears implicit in its asking. The solo is preceded by the line “how soft your body in the morning: / all of you one winged eyelid,” a lovely and unprompted compliment. To me, it is a dramatic shift in emotional depth to go from something as innocent as this little compliment to putting one’s heart on the line by asking the ultimate question, and yet this shift feels totally natural.

– John William Griffith II

World premiere recording & First Prize, 2020 NOTUS Student Composition Contest

Night Sky Songs is a setting of two poems by Welsh poet Idris Caffrey. The first poem reflects on the solace of a winter night, and the second on the observation of a sunset from across a valley. I was struck by Caffrey’s painting of a human response to the natural world, and of the parallels of the narrator’s inner and outer worlds.

– Leigha Amick

World premiere recording & Second Prize, 2020 NOTUS Student Composition Contest

It Takes Your Breath Away is a dual celebration: expressing the creativity of Roger Roe, Margie McCreless Roe, and their family, while also expressing the relief that has come from an easing of our pandemic situation.

It is also a new creative venture for me, starting first from the recording of Margie’s own reading of her poem, moving to recorded improvisations at the piano, then to recorded improvisations by Roger on the English Horn, interweaving recorded excerpts of the poem by Roger and his family, and then finally creating a composed English Horn part to perform live above the recorded electronics part, edited and mixed with varying levels of reverberation and distortion. The recorded part is also placed into a time: June 2021, when the cicadas were singing their own song of relief after a long hibernation.

I dedicated this piece lovingly to my dear friend Roger and to his most remarkable family.

– Dominick DiOrio

Smiley describes Wire You Here as “an exploration of ever-changing connection and disconnection.” Commissioned by NOTUS prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took on new resonance as NOTUS’ first (and only) virtual choir project, released online in August 2020.

When I was a young child, I imagined that America was like living on Sesame Street in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood — a utopian land of opportunity and freedom. When I finally arrived at age 10, my dreams had mostly come true, but I also learned a somber lesson that not all principles are easy to put into practice. It was that friction between professed ideals and painful reality that Langston Hughes captured in his poem, Let America Be America Again. That friction is also the foundation of the piece commissioned by Shannon Lyles and the FHS Patriot Singers in Orlando FL. Freedom High School serves such a diverse community of immigrants that 11 languages were represented in Lyles’s top choir. As hateful and xenophobic rhetoric became prominent in national discourse, we worked together to capture the essence of the choir’s ethnic diversity and artistic unity. Lazarus’s words, which are engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, are a perfect foil to Hughes’s dark (but ultimately hopeful) sentiments. To add a personal touch to the piece, I also asked the members of the choir to complete three prompts — I hope…/I dream…/I sing… — which they would then translate and record so that I could get a sense of the rhythm of their respective languages. In the end, the piece aims to make plain how far we are from the ideals we’ve set for ourselves, but it also clings to the hope that we will one day achieve them. I can’t think of anything more American than that.

– Joel Thompson

A Chain is Broken is a musical setting of an original poem, Earth’s Anthem, by Iranian-American author and poet Khashayar Tonekaboni (pen name Terry Pinaud). The poem is a creative reimagining of the poet’s own experience of starting a new life in the United States, after he moved there from Iran to study at Indiana University. In the poem, Tonekaboni writes in both Persian and English, as he illustrates the difficulties associated with finding a new way when he was also gradually learning to understand a new language. As the poem progresses, its initial uncertainty turns to feelings of aspiration, optimism, and joy, even while still recognizing that “with freedom comes a cost.”

The music is also aspirational in its trajectory, moving from the opening murkiness in which a tenor soloist is heard over a foggy confusion of English words to an ever more powerful clarity infused with rhythmic propulsion and drive.

The work was written by DiOrio for NOTUS — the contemporary vocal ensemble at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music — to perform at the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music in Auckland. Ultimately, the Symposium was canceled and the premiere was postponed until now due to the coronavirus. While the original intent was to perform this work — and this entire program — in Auckland, New Zealand for the Symposium, we are grateful to be able to share it with you today. The commissioning of the music and the text were both made possible with support from the Indiana University New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Extraordinary Opportunity program.

– Dominick DiOrio


Funding for this album was provided by an Individual Research Award from the Indiana University Institute of Advanced Study, with additional support from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Funding for the commissioning of the music for A Chain Is Broken and the poetry upon which it is based, Earth’s Anthem, was provided by an Indiana University New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Extraordinary Opportunity Grant.

This album was originally meant to be a celebration of a tour for NOTUS planned to New Zealand in July of 2020, which was unfortunately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the recording project was stretched over three years instead of one, the director wishes to gratefully acknowledge the many contributions of time, talent, and treasures by the 31 artists who were meant to travel to Auckland, New Zealand for the 12th World Symposium on Choral Music, but who never had the chance to do so.


by Carlos Cordero

Mírame, (Look at me,)
Escúchame. (Listen to me.)
Estoy Sufriendo. (I’m suffering.)
No puedo ver, (I cannot see,)
Tengo hambre, (I am hungry,)
Tengo sed, (I am thirsty,)
Estoy Enfermo. (I am sick.)
¡Ayúdame! (Help me!)

by Breyten Breytenbach

first light washes in
froth on a dark crest
the dream still dawdles
with slow wings
your figure next to me asleep

brightness is a burnished blinding
the child in me remembers forgetting
a known world
where birds fly in and out,
the old human in me resurrects
with warmth in the throat
the child as unfamiliar
memory territory
how soft your body in the morning:
all of you one winged eyelid

will you own me still?
you open the balcony door
for the blind angel to stumble out
and fade away behind our seeing

everything a mirror
everything a mirror
we must meet again

by Idris Caffrey

I. The Dark

There’s no fear, not now
all the ghosts have gone
and the dark befriends me
when grey days close.
Out in its stillness
it hides all the tears,
lets a snow path freeze
across the fields;
it allows me to dream
when I’m not asleep,
eases the loneliness
people can bring.

The quietness settles
under shaking stars;
the night seems so small,
the morning so large.

II. The Other Side of the Valley

The sun has come out late today
and lights the golden fields,
making them look nearer now.
The hay is waiting to be gathered,
rolled up in neat carpets,
soaking the last warmth of pale sunlight.

I would like to go to the hills,
watch the shadows from hedges
close in until there is nothing left
but one small wedge of light
that you can hold in your hand
and throw up into the darkening sky
to burst into a million tiny stars.

By Margie McCreless Roe

It is not
one of those sacred encounters
where you open your lungs
and hold the air
until you can hold it no longer –

the Grand Canyon, a full moon,
a granddaughter’s dance, distant thunder,
Brahms’ Requiem, Chartres.

It is a virus.
It can take away your breath, your breathing,
until, attached to an exotic bouquet,
you receive the wind
of a blessed breathing machine.

It is causing all of us
to hold our breath
in masks of white or grey or black
or sometimes brilliant colors.

It is sucking the breath from our days.

But I know an old story
where even the dust received breath
and took on life
under the trees of a garden.

by Moira Smiley

Wire you here?
You you you you…
I’m reaching across to you now
I reach, I reach to you now…
What carries me across the abyss
What carries me across the abyss of us
Carry me across the abyss of us…

Who are you that mumbles in the dark
and who are you that draws your veil across the stars?[…] I’m the one who dreamt a dream while still a serf of kings
A dream so strong, so brave, so true that even yet it sings.
To build a homeland of the free.[…] For all the songs we’ve sung,
and all the dreams we’ve dreamed,
America was never America to me,
and yet I swear: America will be!
– Langston Hughes

[…] Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
give me the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these to me!
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
– Emma Lazarus

Translated statements from students of the Freedom High School choral program in Orlando FL

Spanish: Yo sueño de un nuevo amanecer. I dream of a new dawn.

Sindhala: Mage anagatha sinduwa. I sing for the future.

Filipino: Umaasa ako no may pagababago. I hope there is a change.

Arabic: Atamanaa ‘an albashar yatealam an yu hib. I hope that people can learn to love.

Portuguese: En canto porque estou livre. I sing because I am free.

Mandarin: Wo mengxiangzhe meihao de weilai. I dream of a better future.

Japanese: Seigi o motomote. I hope for justice.

German: Ich singe für eine Flucht aus der Welt. I sing for an escape from the world.

Vietnamese: Con uoc mong hoa binh. I dream of peace.

Haitian Creole: Mwen chante pou lapè sou Latè. I sing for peace.

Earth’s Anthem
by Khashayar Tonekaboni

Gham daaram, Maadar
Kojayee, Pédar?
Gharibeh-am keh dar
Beyneh gharibeh-haast

Deerooz, baa ham boodeem
Deerooz, khandeh
Chehreh-ye Maadar, keh feda kardeh
Khaterehi tanha beyneh sedaahaast

Cheh meegooyand?
Cheh meeporsand?
Beh cheh meekhandand?
Gom-shodeh injaa tanhaast

I’m sad, Mother
Where are you, Father?
I’m a stranger
Among strangers

Yesterday, we were together
Yesterday, there was laughter
Mother’s countenance and her sacrifice
Are but memories among the voices

What are they saying?
What are they asking?
What makes them laugh?
He who is lost is here alone

Do they understand?
A smile and
A nod and
A barrier is crossed

And I see unity
Of ideas, of thoughts that brings
Laughter at laughable things
Together, engendering trust

A new world is at hand
New faces, new expressions
Together in diverse collections
An ocean of love and lust

For freedom stands
Facing me, embracing me
Carrying, chasing me
From maybe to must

Certainty replaces
Trepidation and fear
Friends and lovers are here
Laughing, crying, their faces embossed

With joy, with pain
Still, a chain is broken
And moods are spoken
But with freedom comes a cost

Dear to bear the burden of
Standing on both feet and
Shouting to the world, taking a stand
I am no longer tossed

On the waves of will
Of others. I’ll speak
For me and mine, no longer meek
And for the globe in whose crust

Is baked the love of all
Sometimes hidden
Some forbidden
But never is Mother thrust

In the dark of hate
For long when all the I’s
Proclaim Earth’s anthem never dies
Singing the stories of each of us.