The Gorgeous Nothings (2016)

Soprano, Flute, Oboe & Piano


The Gorgeous Nothings takes its title and inspiration from the facsimile publication of Emily Dickinson’s complete envelope writings edited by Marta L. Werner and Jen Bervin. These beautiful fragments range from completed, self-contained short poems to mere thoughts hastily expressed on scraps of paper. After selecting a couple of the envelope fragments, I completed my set of songs with additional fragments found in the Emily Dickinson archives. I was drawn to these sketches as they seem to give us a glimpse into Dickinson’s creative process. Also, perhaps because of their very nature of incompleteness, the fragments allow the reader to engage in new ways with Dickinson’s words. It is my hope that the music captures these wonderfully suggestive aspects of the fragments.


The Gorgeous Nothings was commissioned by the Lawrence Art Center and premiered by the trio Allégresse with Soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson on March 11, 2017.


Text: Emily Dickinson


I. Clogged Only With Music


only with Music,

like the Wheels of Birds –


Afternoon and

the West and

the gorgeous nothings

which compose

the sunset

keep their high



II. In This Short Life

In this short Life

that only (merely) lasts an hour

How much – how


little – is

within our



III. Paradise Is No Journey

Paradise is no Journey

because it he is within –

but for that very cause


though – it is the

most arduous of

Journeys – because as

the servant conscientiously

says at the Door

we are out –

always – invariably –


IV. The Little Sentences

The little


I begun

and never

finished –

the little

wells I dug and


filled –


V. It Is Very Still

It is very still in the

world now – Thronged

only with Music, like the


Decks of

Birds –

and the Seasons

take their hushed

places like figures

in a Dream –


Permission to use Clogged Only With Music, Paradise Is No Journey, The Little Sentences and It Is Very Still granted by Harvard University Press. THE LETTERS OF EMILY DICKINSON, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, Associate Editor, Theodora Ward, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1958 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1986 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1924, 1932, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952 by Alfred Leete Hampson. Copyright ©1960 by Mary L. Hampson.


Permission to use “In This Short Life “granted by Harvard University Press. THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942, by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1965, by Mary L. Hampson.



here there (2006)

Violin & Piano


The word here and the word there are in many respects the same. If you look up either in the dictionary you find the same definition for both: at or in this place. Yet, they are not truly interchangeable. Their meaning is altered by the speaker’s perspective and frame of reference. My here can be someone’s there, and my there can be someone’s here, and so on. I was drawn to these words as a title because they fittingly describe the emotion that is conjured up when one is torn between two places. In a way it is comforting to remember that only a slight shift in perspective can bring the there, here.



Soul Journey–Three Whitman Songs (2014)

Mezzo-Soprano & Piano


The moment I read Whitman’s poem Grand is the Seen, I knew I had to set these beautiful words to music. A soundworld arose immediately and as I was getting deeper into the writing process, the music flowed freely, as if Whitman’s words themselves already had the music embedded in them and all I had to do was tap into the energy of it all. At times it felt truly magical and mysterious!


After finishing the first song, I realized I was not quite ready to let go of Whitman’s words. I discovered two more wonderful poems from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that, although written at different times, seemed to belong together with Grand is the Seen to form a cycle. For me, these three poems create a beautiful journey, a journey of the soul from awakening to awareness to transcendence. Soul Journey – Three Whitman Songs (2014) was commissioned by the Abiquiu Chamber Music Festival.


Text: Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass


I. Grand is the Seen

Grand is the seen, the light, to me – grand are the sky and stars,

Grand is the earth, and grand are lasting time and space,

And grand their laws, so multiform, puzzling, evolutionary;

But grander far the unseen soul of me, comprehending, endowing all those,

Lighting the light, the sky and stars, delving the earth, sailing

   the sea,

(What were all those, indeed, without thee, unseen soul? of what

   amount without thee?)

More evolutionary, vast, puzzling, O my soul!

More multiform far-more lasting thou than they.


II. I Swear I Think (from To Think of Time)

I swear I think now that every thing without exception has an

  eternal soul!

The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have!

  the animals!


I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!

That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it,

  and the cohering is for it!

And all preparation is for it – and identity is for it – and life and

  materials are altogether for it!


III. Darest Thou Now, O Soul

Darest thou now, O Soul,

Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,

Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?


No map, there, nor guide,

Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,

Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.


I know it not, O Soul;

Nor dost thou – all is a blank before us;

All waits, undream’d of, in that region – that inaccessible land.


Till, when the ties loosen,

All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,

Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds, bound us.


Then we burst forth – we float,

In Time and Space, O Soul – prepared for them;

Equal, equipt at last – (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil, O Soul.



With Eyes Open (2015)

Alto Saxophone & Piano


With Eyes Open takes as its source material an earlier piece of mine entitled with both eyes written in 2008 for flute, guitar, vibraphone, and piano. In With Eyes Open the original material is reimagined for Alto Saxophone and Piano, a process that felt very organic especially because the premise of the initial composition was to write a piece that would create a unified whole from multiple perspectives on the same musical materials. As in life, so in music, the only way to gain multiple perspectives on an idea, and to truly begin to know the depth of these ideas, is to open oneself completely to the idea of possibility. Taking a composition originally written for four diverse instruments and creating a new piece was opening myself up to these new possibilities.


The painter David Hockney wrote, “Cézanne starts to look at the cup before him with both eyes, opening one and then the other, and painting his doubts.” Only through a synthesis of these multiple perspectives did Cézanne see the truth, his truth, in the cup he was painting. With both eyes open then is the only way to really see things one has not seen before, and in the process gaining a perspective that is only possible by embracing and indeed celebrating the very possibilities inherent in the material itself.


With Eyes Open was commissioned by Keith Bohm and the 38th Annual Festival of New American Music.



The Road is All (2007)

Piano Trio


The Road is All takes its title and inspiration from a quote by the 19th-century French historian, Jules Michelet: “Le but n’est rien; le chemin, c’est tout.” (The end is nothing; the road is all.)


The Road is All embraces the journey, the twists and turns, the unpredictability that is life, the lingering in the space between, and the simple enjoyment of a moment in passing time.


The Road is All was commissioned by newEar contemporary chamber ensemble.


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