a meditation on war for SATTB chorus (6')

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Completed in February, 2011.

Dedicated to John Rowehl, in homage to Steven Stucky. Premiere by the Cornell Chamber Singers, directed by John Rowehl, on May 3, 2011. Also performed by the NOTUS and the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers. 

Text: from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and William Byrd's Bow thine ear (1589)


War-Dreams is a meditation on the pervasiveness of violence, taking inspiration from two works: Walt Whitman's "Old War-Dreams" and William Byrd's Civitas Sancti Tui ("Bow Thine Ear").

During the Civil War, Whitman volunteered as a nurse at the front lines, a post that exposed him to scenes of unimaginable carnage as countless young men lost their lives in unprecedented numbers. These haunting scenes inspired Whitman's meditation on death and memory, "War-Dreams," in which he ponders the lingering, inescapable memories of violence. Byrd's "Bow Thine Ear" describes a similarly hopeless scene: a desolate and ruined Jerusalem, unaided by a higher power.

By superimposing and expanding upon these two works, I hoped initially to lament the seeming impossibility of peace. But as I wrote I began to seek a kind of redemption for Whitman and Byrd's sorrow. While the Whitman sections take on a twisted and broken character, composed as a quietly dissonant war march, direct quotations from Byrd's music provide a kind of soothing balm, a prayer begging for consolation. And while lasting peace may never be possible, we, like Whitman, have no choice but to dream for it.


This recording is by NOTUS: Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, directed by Dominick DiOrio.