Barren Cabin, Tin Roof

Written for Lydia Adams and the Elmer Iseler Singers

Mixed Chorus, Piano, Flute, Clarinet, and Violin

5 movements, duration total aprx. 30 mins

Email me for score and performance material

Texts by Marjorie Pickthall, in public domain.
The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall. MCCLELLAND & STEWART: TORONTO (1936)

I. “Ebb Tide”

Out of the winds’ and the waves’ riot, Out of the loud foam,

He has put in to a great quiet

And still home.

Here he may lie at ease and wonder

Why the old ship waits,

And hark for the surge and the strong thunder

Of the full Straits,

And look for the fishing fleet at morning, Shadows like lost souls,

Slide through the fog where the sea’s warning Betrays the shoals,

And watch the deep-sea liner climbing Out of the bright West,

[With a salmon-sky and her wake shining Like a Tern’s breast -]

[And never know he is done for ever
With the old sea’s pride,]
Borne from the fight and the full endeavor On an ebb tide

II. “Saxon Epitaph” [excerpt]

The earth builds on the earth Castles and towers.
The earth saith of the earth All shall be ours.

From the dream of the dust they came

As the dawn set free.

They shall pass as the flower of the flame Or the foam of the sea.

The earth builds on the earth Cities and towers.

The earth saith of the earth All shall be ours.

III. “Wanderlied” [excerpt]

O, would I had a swallow’s wings, for then I’d fly and find it; O, would I had a swallow’s heart, for then I’d love to roam! With an orchard on the hillside and an old, old man to mind it, O, there I’d lift my lodge at last and make my home.

O, there I’d see the tide come in along the whispering reaches, O, there I’d lie and watch the sails go shining to the west,

And there the fir-wood follows on the wide unswerving beaches, It’s there I’d lay me down and take my rest.

IV. “Island Song”

O, the grey rocks of the islands and the hemlock green above them, The foam beneath the wild rose bloom, the star above the shoal, When I am old and weary I’ll wake my heart to love them,
For the blue ways of the islands are wound about my soul.

Here in the early even when the young grey dew is falling, And the king-heron seeks his mate beyond the loneliest wild, Still your heart in the twilight, and you’ll hear the river calling [Through all her outmost islands to see her last-born child.]

V. “Golden Dawn”

Day came like a dove
To the apple trees and the wheat, Her feathers were golden as love And silver her feet.

A song or a shower

Shook the sweet leaf-shadows apart, And like the white moth on the flower Clung the dream to my heart.

And I know not now
What the dawn made dear to me there, But gold was the light on the bough And silver the air.

Barren Cabin, Tin Roof

This composition is a cycle for mixed chorus, flute, violin, clarinet and piano. It takes its inspiration from a photograph of the same title by Ned Pratt. The text by Marjorie Pickthall, is a collection of five unrelated poems that I ordered in a way to create a fictional narrative. I imagine wanderers lost at sea, disrupted by a storm, only to find refuge on an island with only a small warn out cabin as shelter. It is a work about humility and thankfulness, but it contains themes of adventure, turmoil, exploration, hope and peace.

Ebb Tide

Ebb Tide utilizes the full ensemble. The movement features a heavy, pulsing motive as if to articulate natures power and dominance. Fugal and imitative contrapuntal techniques, as well as moments of homophonic choral writing are explored.

Saxon Epitaph

Saxon Epitaph uses the tenors, basses, piano and clarinet. This movement changes the hierarchy, or roles of the singers. Here, the clarinet takes prominence, and the tenors and basses are in the middle of the texture. It’s as if the voices are commenting on the dialogue between clarinet and piano, yet acting restrained, almost like a medieval cantus firmus. The final phrase of the movement sees the voices blossom into four part writing using contemporary harmonic ideas, while the clarinet paraphrases what was once the piano’s melodic gesture.


Wanderlied features large sections of music that make use of solos or small groups, and maintains a primarily a cappella texture. There are transitioning sections which feature the trio of clarinet, violin and flute; the full ensemble joins in the later sections of the work. This movement evokes themes of searching and longing; trying to find home and a place to feel whole. It incorporates alternations of hymn-like chorale passages and florid, improvisatory-like gestures.

Island Song

Island Song is for soprano, alto, clarinet, violin and piano. I imagine the repeating, yet varying piano gesture as waves lapping on the island shores. The vocal melodies are intricate and should have a light, almost Celtic feel. This movement explores subtle changes of timbre and colour to evoke the sense of nostalgia.

Golden Dawn

The final movement Golden Dawn begins with the theme from the opening movement, although developed and transformed. It repeats this theme to add unity to the larger work, but also to remind the listener of the narrative path this work takes. We are reminded of the waves riot and power of the opening “Ebb Tide” music in the beginning of this movement. Eventually the music gives way to a more gentle triple meter idea. The voices sing the main theme in pairs. Slowly the instruments are given more importance as the work moves forward using an additive texture; the music blossoms with the full instrumentation by the end of the poem. There is a brief coda on the text “day came with golden dawn, golden dawn” to bring the work to a peaceful cadence.

Barren Cabin, Tin Roof was premiered on April 30, 2023 by the Elmer Iseler Singers, Lydia Adams (Conductor), James Campbell (Clarinet), Guy Few (Piano), Joshua Bell (Violin) Suzanne Shulman (Flute)