Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand

J.A. Kawarsky composer

Release Date: May 26, 2023
Catalog #: NV6522
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century
Solo Instrumental

DANCING IN THE PALM OF GOD’S HAND from J.A. Kawarsky and Navona Records isn’t at all a typical worship album; rather, it’s a cross section through Kawarsky’s oeuvre that encompasses minimalist solo pieces, intimate chamber music, and grand orchestral works.

The themes on this album are vast and sweeping, at once lavish and carefully measured, reflecting the great and the minute, like an interplay between human and God. It’s an almost philosophical experience, and one needn’t be religious to enjoy its uplifting qualities.


Hear the full album on YouTube

An Inside Look

J.A. Kawarsky – Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Grace Dances for Oboe and Strings J.A. Kawarsky Zagreb Festival Orchestra | Dian Tchobanov, conductor; J. Ricardo Castañeda, oboe 12:58
02 3 Solos for Saxophone: I. Te’amim J.A. Kawarsky Jonathan Helton, alto saxophone 3:21
03 3 Solos for Saxophone: II. Awake, North Wind J.A. Kawarsky Jonathan Helton, soprano saxophone 3:06
04 3 Solos for Saxophone: III. A Woman of Valor J.A. Kawarsky Jonathan Helton, soprano saxophone 2:26
05 Charlottesville: 12 August 2017 J.A. Kawarsky Siberian State Symphony Orchestra | Vladimir Lande, conductor 10:58
06 Rejoice, O Young Man J.A. Kawarsky J. Ricardo Castañeda, oboe 3:40
07 Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand: I. The Holiness of Silence J.A. Kawarsky; Text by Stacey Zisook Robinson Zagreb Festival Orchestra | Dian Tchobanov, conductor; Jillian Krempasky, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Helton, alto saxophone 4:02
08 Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand: II. Ready J.A. Kawarsky; Text by Stacey Zisook Robinson Zagreb Festival Orchestra | Dian Tchobanov, conductor; Jillian Krempasky, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Helton, alto saxophone 4:13
09 Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand: III. Return Me J.A. Kawarsky; Text by Stacey Zisook Robinson Zagreb Festival Orchestra | Dian Tchobanov, conductor; Jillian Krempasky, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Helton, alto saxophone 2:09
10 Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand: IV. On the Periphery J.A. Kawarsky; Text by Stacey Zisook Robinson Zagreb Festival Orchestra | Dian Tchobanov, conductor; Jillian Krempasky, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Helton, alto saxophone 4:54
11 Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand: V. A Holy Thing J.A. Kawarsky; Text by Stacey Zisook Robinson Zagreb Festival Orchestra | Dian Tchobanov, conductor; Jillian Krempasky, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Helton, alto saxophone 4:53

Tracks 1-4, 6-11
Recorded September 3-5, 2022 at Blagoje Bersa Concert Hall in Zagreb, Czech Republic
Session Producer Krešimir “Krešo” Seletković
Session Engineer Filip Vidovic
Editing, Mixing Melanie Montgomery

Track 5
Recorded August 28, 2019 at Krasnoyarsk Regional Philharmonic in Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Session Producer & Engineer Alexei Barashkin
Assistant Engineers Regina Ablyazina, Roman Dergachev
Editing, Mixing Shaun Michaud

Mastering Melanie Montgomery

Cover design from an original mono print by Shellie Jacobson

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Chris Robinson

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Production Director Levi Brown
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Production Manager Jean Noël Attard
Production Assistant Martina Watzková

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

Artist Information

J.A. Kawarsky


Dr. J.A. Kawarsky (b. 1959) is Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton in New Jersey. Kawarsky received his B.M. in composition from Iowa State University and his M.M. and D.M.A. from Northwestern University, where he studied with John Paynter, Alan Stout, and Frederick Ockwell. In 1982, Kawarsky conducted the Opera Company of the Negev Region in Be’er Sheva in Israel. Before coming to Westminster in 1989, he taught at Fort Hays State University, the University of Wisconsin, and Moraine Valley Community College.

Zagreb Festival Orchestra


The Zagreb Festival Orchestra was founded in 1989, comprised of the top classical performers in Croatia and formed with the intent to record a single album. That intent was fulfilled with OVERTURES, a record of composer Gioachino Rossini’s greatest operatic works conducted by the acclaimed maestro Michael Halász, a resident conductor at the Vienna State Opera for 20 years, and produced by six-time GRAMMY Award winner Martin Sauer.

Dian Tchobanov


Maestro Dian Tchobanov has been the General Music Director of State Opera – Plovdiv since their 2013-2014 season. He earned his master´s degree at the State Musical Academy (Sofia) in 1997 and at the University of Performing Arts and Music Vienna, Austria (Uroš Lajović – orchestra conducting and Konrad Leitner – accompanying). His conducting style has been influenced by Sir Colin Davies, Dresden, Germany, Maestro Fabio Luisi, and Maestro Michael Halas, conductor at Vienna State Opera. Tchobanov has been awarded with the second and the special award of "Lovro von Matačić" at the International Conductors Competition in Zagreb in 2003. In 2015 he was invited to jury the competition.

Vladimir Lande


In 2008, Lande was appointed principal guest conductor of the St. Petersburg State Symphony, and in 2011 he led the orchestra on a 24-concert "Tour of the Americas” including New York’s Alice Tully Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Philadelphia’s KimmelCenter, Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Hall, and the Society of the Performing Arts in Houston, as well as the most prestigious venues in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, and Uruguay.

Stacey Zisook Robinson


The five poems written for DANCING IN THE PALM OF GOD’S HAND were composed by Stacey Zisook Robinson. The poems come from a powerful collection of poetry that focuses on the author’s search for meaning and connection in a frenetic and ever-changing world. Robinson grapples with her faith, wrestles with God, and ultimately finds meaning — and even joy — in the midst of all the gray that life has to offer. Throughout the poems, the author shows us a vast and troubling wilderness — one of fear and doubt, loneliness, and despair — but she does not leave us there to wander. Rather, she uses her writing to shine a light on the dark and narrow path stretching out before us. “If we’re lucky,” she writes, “we realize, in our fear, there is hope. In our loneliness, we are surrounded by love. In our doubt, we dance — with infinite grace — in the palm of God’s hand.” Stacey died on March 8, 2021 from COVID-19.

Ricardo Castañeda


Ricardo Castañeda received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music performance from Northwestern University where he was a winner of the Northwestern University Concerto Competition and recipient of the Wade Fetzer award for excellence in performance. He was a student of Ray Still, former principal oboist of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Castañeda is currently Principal Oboist with The Chicago Sinfonietta and English Horn/Oboe chair with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also a member of the Chicago Ensemble and Barossa Woodwind Quintet. Previous positions include Principal Oboist with The Lake Forest Symphony, South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and English Horn with the Mexico City Philharmonic.

Having made his solo debut with the National Symphony of El Salvador at age 15, he has since appeared as soloist in Latin America, Europe, Japan, and the United States.

An active freelance oboist, Castañeda has performed as principal oboist with the Chicago Opera Theater, the Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet as well as numerous “Broadway in Chicago” musical productions. He has performed as an extra/substitute with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony, and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Castañeda is the program director for the Symphony Session at Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Wisconsin, where he is also the oboe instructor.

Jonathan Helton

alto saxophone

Jonathan Helton is an active solo recitalist and chamber musician who has appeared in concerts worldwide, in Beijing, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Bangkok, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Athens, Johannesburg, Bogota, Brasilia, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Montreal, Vancouver, Chicago, Washington DC, and New York. He has been featured on programs of the North American Saxophone Alliance, the Panama Cello Festival, the Mendoza International SaxFest, the World Saxophone Congress, the College Music Society, Wisconsin Composers’ Alliance, Chicago Consortium of Composers, and the New Music Chicago Festival. His performances have been heard on North Carolina Public Radio, on WFMT in Chicago, and in national and international radio syndication. He is featured on compact discs from Centaur, Navona, Elf, Innova, Windlass, Mark Records, and Music from Northwestern. From 1992 to 1999, Helton served on the faculty at Northwestern University. He is currently Professor of Saxophone at the University of Florida School of Music. Helton is a Selmer Artist/Clinician, and a former President of the North American Saxophone Alliance.

Jillian Krempasky


Jillian Krempasky is a lyric mezzo-soprano based in Houston TX. She received her Master of Music degree in Voice Performance from Rice University, and her Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance from Westminster Choir College of Rider University.

As a classical soloist, Krempasky was a Houston District Competitor in the 2022 Laffont Competition. In 2020, she was a Semi-Finalist in the University Division of the American Prize’s Women in Art Song and Oratorio Competition. Her recent career highlights include the roles of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Shepherd School Opera), Cendrillon in Massenet’s Cendrillon (Westminster Opera Theatre), Hansel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (Opera Steamboat OAI), and Dinah in Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (Westminster Opera Theatre).

Last fall, Krempasky performed the mezzo-soprano solo in the Mozart Requiem as part of Tom Jaber’s annual 9/11 Memorial Concert at St. Anne’s Catholic Church and the First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood TX. In March, she performed in the U.S. premiere of Sam Wu’s Songs Across the Aeons.


Grace Dances takes its name from the apocryphal “Acts of John,” written in the second century CE. The Nicene Council in 787 refused to admit this text into the New Testament as it made the personage of Jesus into a very human form and not enough of a godhead. Within this beautiful text is Jesus’ round dance. This ecstatic text, which is the inspiration for this work, brings out numerous emotions that I have attempted to present in this composition. The work, for oboe and string quartet, is in three large sections: an opening slow section which becomes quite rhythmic and (at one point) perhaps, even amusing. The second section slows down the built-up emotion and is reminiscent of chant, only to return to a very rhythmically active and constantly changing metric dance.
Te’amim, for alto saxophone, was composed for Jonathan Helton. Te’amim is based on the chanting formula for the book of Psalms and is the first in a series of solo saxophone and oboe pieces based on the te’amim (music cantillation system).
Awake, North Wind, for soprano saxophone, was composed for Jonathan Helton and uses the cantillation formula for the Song of Songs.
A Woman of Valor, for soprano saxophone, was composed in memory of Deborah Perkal-Balinsky, who was overwhelmed when reading this text from Proverbs on her first Shabbat with her husband.
Charlottesville: 12 August 2017, for orchestra, was written in reaction to the neo-Nazi rally on a University Campus which resulted in the deaths of three people. The President responded, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.” The work includes Confederate songs, one of Hitler’s favorite Nazi national anthems, the Gospel hymn Over My Head, and an American children’s counting song Bye ‘n Bye, meant to represent those who have yet to learn hatred, all weaved into a purely American work.
Rejoice, O Young Man, for solo oboe, was composed for Ricardo Castañeda. The work takes its basis from one of the Hebraic cantillation formulae for the book of Ecclesiastes.
Dancing in the Palm of God’s Hand is arranged for mezzo-soprano, alto saxophone, and chamber orchestra. The five poems were composed by Stacey Zisook, who died from COVID-19 complications on March 8, 2021 and was studying to join the rabbinate. The poems relate differing views of one’s relationship with God through silence, love, waiting, awakening, and where love lives.
Denise Koncelik, Naomi Dushay, Steve Flood, Alec Soto, Paul Rickerl, Susan Gillman, Stefan Young, Sharon Mirchandani, Susan Gillman, Doug Reeve, Chip Giles, Bryan Morhardt, Erin Bailey-Fernando, Brian Paulsen, Raymond Bassford, Steve Hyder, Shai and Andrea Simonson, Hope Knight, Thomas Grabinski, Kent Coffman, Joseph Kraus, Eric Jon Nichols, Ingrid Clarfield, Robert McCormick, Jeannie Castells, Mark Young, Philip and Harriet Freidenreich, William David, Jason Coffman, John Crever, Jason Vodicka, Charles Symes, Scott Armstrong David Feinberg, Nick Kyrus, Marjory Klein, Eric Cohen, Tom Shelton, Kam Falk, Bruce Moskowitz and John Fellin, Bob Card, Tim Falk, Michael Traupman, Luthien Brackett, Christopher Drew, Maury Schulte, Charlie Frantz, Danny Weisberg and David Klingenberger, Marybeth Consiglio, Sheryl Monkelien, Nick McBriden, Erin Holland, Lindsay Jackson, Rick Joyce, Jeff Doshna, Mark Dolan, Giancarlo D’Elia, Boomer Hammer, David Brown, Cameron Cahoon, Angela Pinti, Gene Trantham, Tony Sgro, Corey Everly, Alison Mingle, Meson Banas, Debbie Weiss, Dan Foster, Alicia Skow, Rider Foster, Ricky Valle, Lauran Amoriello, Michael Hudson, Jay Maenhout, Michael O’Dell, Fr. Philip-Michael Tangorra, Ronald A. Hemmel, Lisa Haefner, Rebecca Oswald, Vicki Danforth, Joseph Watkins, University of Florida School of Music, Kathleen Dunn, Michael Stauffer, Anonymous, Javier Mendoza, Andrea Isaacs, James McCrane


By Stacey Zisook Robinson

I remember the silence of the desert.
I entered those wild lands
of heat and cracked earth and wind
that twisted everything it kissed.

My shadow danced, a stumbling gait
on the solitary plains and morphing hills
that rose and sank and shimmered
under a sky absent of clouds.

I felt its blueness.
It lay heavy on my skin,
and tasted of bronze, burnished—
swept clean
and empty.

I saw visions there,
and felt the echoes of stardust,
and still my shadow danced—
there was no hiding from it
in the silence and sere beauty
Of wind and earth and trackless glory.

I walked
And danced
And stumbled, weary,
in a vast and antique land
of desolate grandeur,
To gather together
my brokenness,
to return to the gate of Heaven

and rest, at last,
in the hand of God.

I remember the desert
and the holiness of silence.

By Stacey Zisook Robinson

There is a rising expectancy
A hold-your-breath
gathering in,
at the edge
that drops away
ten thousand feet
and ten thousand more.

A moment—
just that one,
that separates you from
everything else.
You hold yourself so
so poised.

There’s a heartbeat’s difference
between waiting
and ready,
a heartbeat,
a moment,
the distance between

You have walked the ten thousand steps,
and ten thousand more,
an eternity of steps
to cross that narrow distance,
to stand in hushed—
in rising

To leap into that moment,
to complete that breath,
to bridge the distance
between waiting
and God.

To stand
in grace,
in quiet stillness,
in breathless wonder,
on the other side of waiting.
And you gather in those tethers
that have shackled you
You gather them
and let them fall,
cracked and dusty and rusted through.

A breath.
A heartbeat.
A moment that stretches into
the rest of forever
(and then some)
And then
you leap.


By Stacey Zisook Robinson

My soul wanders,
on a carpet of light
while I sleep,
tangled in sweat-damp sheets.
Watch me, God,
from your sheltering peace.
Return me, God,
so that I may rise,
Oh that I may rise!
and bow to you –
bend to you,


By Stacey Zisook Robinson
Love lives on the
it slips about
in liquid
lithesome ripples,
just out of
the corner of your eye,
like a shadow
or a memory
of smoke
or light.

My heart can feel it,
eager and
pulled along a
tidal edge of
and need.

I feel its
electric current
play against my skin,
moving with a
pulse-beat rhythm,
and I long to
to carry and
be carried
out to the edges,
into the corners where love lives
and lingers
and slips in
recursive arcs
that connect
each beat
each breath
each secret and sigh.

My breath is caught
in that slipstream,
a heartbeat stutter,
filled with
edged in light.
And there,
love finds me, naming me—
inviting me—
urging me—
to dance.

And oh!
I so long to

By Stacey Zisook Robinson

What a fearful
What a holy
What an achingly beautiful thing—
To love.

There is no falling in.
It is an uprising,
A rebellion of breathtaking

We are lifted
And yet we
And yet again,
In a giddy
And heart-starting

We love,
even as we fall,
and are pulled upwards
Outwards beyond the edges of

And we love.

God, we love!
In fearful—
We love.

And then, let go.

and sere,
we love
and let go,
Tumbling inwards,
Suddenly weighted
with tattered edges.

What was love
and aching beauty
and holy holy holy—
What was love
We let it