Dr. Matthew Emery (b.1991) is a Canadian composer whose music has been performed in twenty-six countries. He currently lives and works in Toronto, Canada where he maintains an active composition and teaching studio.

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)

SAB, opt. T, and Piano, with ASL
5 min duration
Words by Joanne Weber & Paula Weber

Commissioned by Dr. Melissa Morgan, University of Regina Choirs, the Regina Public and Regina Catholic School High School Choirs, and the Saskatchewan Choral Federation

Score available in Fall 2023, please email me for information

Program note:

“This is the morning that will rise” utilizes a ternary form which reflects the intergenerational structure of the text, and makes for a poignant poetic journey on themes of hope and resiliency. The vocal writing mixes textures from unison lines to four part writing. The piece is able to be performed with or without the Tenor line making it accessible for SAB and SATB ensembles. The A sections feature the upbeat, syncopated lines which intermingle against the pulsing piano line. The B section is more introspective, the vocal lines are set more homophonically, and the piano has a solo-like quality which comments on, and responds to, the homophonic choral writing. The poignant text illuminates images of repetition, cycles of the moon, the rising sun each day, and the strength that inspires. Musically, I respond to this through repetition of phrases, ostanati-like gestures, and use of fifths.

This work was commissioned by:
The University of Regina, Dr. Melissa Morgan, Director
Winston Knoll Collegiate High School, Diane Taylor-Neale, Director
Campbell Collegiate High School, Jodi Scott, Director
Luther College High School, Kyera Levesque, Director
Michael A. Riffel Catholic High School, Chloe Golden and Stacy Allan, Directors Sheldon-Williams Collegiate High School, Sarah Keefe, Director
The Saskatchewan Choral Federation

Text by Joanne Weber and Paula Weber

This is the morning that will rise, to the sun in every eye,
to the ancient apple tree
and the cycles of the moon.

The effervescent honey bee
tells us to begin again and again.

Staring into the embers,
we grieve and dream,
stir the ashes of our lives.
Through the air we come to see
many things hidden and now are freed.
A new rain falls on our myths and stories
as we return to the beginning of what we know.

The sound has stopped.
The heart has not.
The stillness frees the mind.
Time for action!
Time for unrest,
and for rest.
For rest is needed in a forest.
The trees grow when their roots are deep. Buried inside trees, hearts tremble
at something forgotten,
something lost in the shoots.
Rain comes down and it is enough
For trees to grow young again.

This is the morning that will rise, to the sun in every eye,
to the ancient apple tree
and the cycles of the moon.

The effervescent honey bee
tells us to begin again, and again.

This is the morning. We start again. This is the morning to start again!

This work includes passages for ASL.

An ASL notation has been created for this song. The notation provides performative ASL which is not the same as a translation that is equivalent to English text. Rather, the notation will emphasize certain features of the English text but not other features. This approach was developed to keep the signing simple enough while singing a complex arrangement of the lyrics. The notation can be viewed as a separate ASL poem with literary features including rhyme (using ASL phonology), rhythm (as in repetition of signs), metaphor (presenting the tree and heart as interchangeable and yet, distinct). Thus, the ASL poem is overlaid on top of the English text to enhance the musical rendition of the song. It should be noted that not every line in this song has an attached ASL notation.

Joanne Weber and Paula Weber

SATB and Alto Saxophone
3 min duration
Text by James Joyce
Commissioned by The Choral Scholars ofUniversity College Dublin Desmond Earley, Artistic Director
please email me for score information and availability

“My Soul, Arise” utilizes an ABA form, where the B section temporarily transports the listener to a dream-like state; the music here features a duet between Alto Saxophone and Soprano, while the remaining voices blur into the background as if we are either half- awake or half-asleep. The Alto Saxophone gesture throughout the work uses a variety of motivic ideas from short fragmentary utterances, to more florid lines, to sustaining – thread like durations which tie the music together between phrases. The A sections feature homophonic chorale-like writing, using varying phrase lengths and slight variation in the motivic idea to bring out poignancy and imagery of the Joyce text.

Text by James Joyce

From dewy dreams, my soul, arise,
From love’s deep slumber and from death,

For lo! the treees are full of sighs Whose leaves the morn admonisheth.

Eastward the gradual dawn prevails Where softly-burning fires appear,

Making to tremble all those veils Of grey and golden gossamer.

While sweetly, gently, secretly,
The flowery bells of morn are stirred

And the wise choirs of faery
Begin (innumerous!) to be heard.

(S)SA and Piano [two part voices with option descent, accompanied]
3 min duration
text by Leslie Grant Scott, adapted by the composer

Commissioned for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir in celebration of their 50th Anniversary, with support from 3 Rivers Federal Credit Union

publisher: Carl Fischer 2024

“I Have Heard the Music There” for two part treble voices, optional descant, with piano is a lyrical work that utilizes a reoccurring motif which grows and varies. The developing variation- like use of this theme speaks to the image or notion of growth; the growth of a tree, of a person, or a choir. We may start out small, then vary, change, develop, transform. The vocal line’s slight variation, use of repetition, imitation, and canonic-like movements weave a thread of familiarity through the piano’s tapestry of subtle shifts in timbre, register, and alternation between chorale-like writing and moments of florid flourishing; the music paints the imagery of the text.

The text by Leslie Grant Scott illuminates themes of the humanity, solace, and comfort we find in Nature. The forest’s foliage filters out the harshness of the world, and we are calmed by the forest’s heart. To me Nature is also a metaphor for community, or the network of loved ones you may have, over perhaps your choir; together with compassion and kindness we are able to filter the world’s harshness, together we grow, we celebrate, and we listen to the music around us.

SAB and Piano
S(S)A and Piano
T(B)B and Piano, this version commissioned by Newman Sound Men’s Choir, premiered Nov 2022.

4 min duration

text by Marjorie Pickthall (public domain worldwide)

Email me for score purchase ($2 per member in the ensemble)

A note on voicing: this composition is flexible, for equal voiced groups, it works in a 2 part, or 2 part with optional third; it also works well as a SAB for mixed groups, this work is very accessible both the piano and vocal lines.

Text: excerpt from “Brading” by Marjorie Pickthall [in public domain]

Here, where the legions parted; Here, where the shields were laid, Wild orchid, honey-hearted, Grows in the wind-swept shade.

Here, where the soldiers rested; Here, where they set their spears, The little larks, brown-breasted, Fall down like falling tears.

Here, where the swords came after; Here, where the ships went by,
The sea-winds send their laughter Between the downs and the sky.

Program note:
“Between the downs and the sky” is a meditation on the text, and notion of “here”. Reflective and commemorative in nature, the poem speaks to themes of remembrance and our shared connections to humanity translated through the natural world. Pickthall pairs anthropomorphized images of nature against the impacts of human violence and strife.

I am drawn to the location-less setting of “here”. We are left with a certain placeless-ness in the poem. “Here” could mean anywhere and everywhere; it could also mean right in front of us in this exact moment. “Here” is also a call to attention, here where we witness, where we notice, where we are called to. Here, where we love, where we mourn, where we hope to become whole.

The work moves in and out of unison, two part, and optional three part writing; from measure forty-five to the end, the middle line second soprano part is completely optional. The music functions the same with or without the inner voice part. This is done to aid in the accessibility of the work, to make the music as approachable and successful to groups of all abilities.

Musically, “here” is metamorphosed through various ostinati gestures as if to depict memory, reflections, echoes which reverberate long after the initial source, a heart beat, relentless waves pounding shores, etc. The work also juxtaposes extreme high and low registers particularly in the piano writing to capture the title image of the “here” found in-between the downs and the sky.

TTB midi mock up

SATB and Piano

Accessible, 3 min 30 s duration

Published by SBMP

The Gift to Sing”, the inaugural piece in the Jamie Hillman Choral Series, is a setting of the poem of the same name by revered African American poet and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson. Matthew Emery’s (b. 1991) unique ability to tell a story through song is perfectly coupled with Johnson’s hopeful and inspiring words on the power of singing to overcome grief, strife, and adversity. The work utilizes a somewhat varied strophic form, though phrases are slightly varied and developed. Different textures are created so that each section presents the main theme, and various voices add counterpoint which cause the piece to blossom. An exciting choice for concert, festival, honor choir, competition, assembly, or Black History Month.

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.

James Weldon Johnson

SSA a cappella

2 min duration

Text by Rabindranath Tagore

Commissioned by the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir. Amanda Nelli, director

This work consists of phrases which are woven together which allow for moments of intermingling and blossoming. The phrases grow larger and longer which reflects the ever changing landscape of what it means to live during Covid-19. The short phrases are winding, and use a lydian pitch collection to further suggest both stability and instability. The work uses canonic imitation to repeat gestures and fragments therein, there is also a juxtaposition of moving and unmoving – long durations that move slower than the pulsing quarters; this speaks to the images of the text, and the emotions that we may be facing while living during the pandemic. The third voice part is kept in the lower tessitura, while parts one and two utilize a larger vocal range.

Sit still my heart, do not raise your dust. Let the world find its way to you [190, Stray Birds] Rabindranath Tagore, in public domain

SSA a cappella

2 min duration

Text by Rabindranath Tagore

Commissioned by the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir. Amanda Nelli, director

The opening is densely woven, with lines weaving and clashing, these intermingling gestures slowly become clearer, gradually fading away into uncluttered statements; a metaphor for the poem, and for life in general during the pandemic. The main gesture of the work has a range of a 5th to accommodate all ranges of singers and tessitura. The theme is treated canonically at various points of intervals allowing for moments of togetherness, flourishing and tension.

Dark clouds become heavens flowers when kissed by light [249, Stray Birds] Rabindranath Tagore, in public domain

please email me for a score / review score.

SATB A cappella

Text by Carl Sandburg [excerpt, PD in Canada]

3 min [please email for score/review score]

Commissioned by Dr. Jennifer Lang for the University of Saskatchewan’s University and Community Chorus

Text is an excerpt of a poem by Carl Sandburg, and freely adapted by the composer. The original poem is in the public domain.

text: “People singing; people with song mouths connecting with song hearts; people who must sing or die; people whose song hearts break if there is no song mouth; these are my people.”

This composition is inspired by the idea that what joins us in our humanity is our connection to song. Songs which fill us with hope, love, nostalgia — grief; songs connect our spirits and synchronize our heartbeats as we join together. During the pandemic, songs are potentially dangerous during the time of unsafe air and global instability. This piece is a quiet reflection for our time during the pandemic, and offers us a moment to remember that though we may be distantly singing, our hearts are filled with song.

“Song Hearts” incorporates a homophonic texture and an ABA structure. Moments of syncopation, and subtle texture changes with phrases out of the diatonic E major provide phrases of tension and motion.

Double Choir [SATB choir, and SATB choir]

Choir one may be performed as a Quartet, or Small Ensemble with solos

Text by Petrarch and Natalie Fasheh

Publisher: TBD, email for score {not available till Sept. 2021}

12 min duration approximately

Thanks go to David Almond and the Almond family for their financial contributions to this project, and to the Kirkland Choral Society (Kirkland, WA; Dr. Glenn R. Gregg, Music Director) which contributed to the project financially, and will give the USA premiere.

Notes from the composer:

“I Breathe” is a work for double choir, built on ideas of binaries: old and new, homophonic and polyphonic, stable and unstable; “I Breathe” incorporates an earlier work of mine: “Breathe”. The juxtaposition of styles, texts and gestures is highlighted throughout “I Breathe” through the use of both modern and past poetry, musical ideas inspired by past eras (Medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance), and juxtaposition of instrumentation: responsorial phrases between choirs, small groups and/or soloists. The work uses these layers of imagery and dialogue to capture the feelings of emotions ranging from hope to despair, and everything in-between that we are facing due to COVID 19. The commissioned poem by Natalie Fasheh exquisitely captures the atmosphere of both the unsettledness, and acceptance that we (I) face(ed) during these times. She both responds to the Petrarch text (used in “Breathe”), and then reaches beyond it.

Program note:

“I Breathe” is in a three part form.

Part one features responsorial phrases alternating virtuosic, florid lines, with block style homophony. There are phrases that may be sung as solos. Part one is a metaphor for the fear, strife and uncertainty of life exemplified through angular melodies, and an evocative, dissonant harmonic palette.

Part two sees the intersection of both choirs centred around “Breathe”. Choir one sings along side choir two, at times in unison, harmony or in juxtaposition. In some ways, the middle movement “Breathe” is an antidote to the tension and angularity of part one; a literal and metaphoric exhalation and collective breath of resolution (hope).

Note from the poet:

What are we faced with when one is suffering from an illness that is beyond our global knowledge and capacity of physical healing? How has society time and time again, in such situations, grappled with the moments of accepting death, versus fighting for life? What kind of hope does it yield? Inspired by David Almond’s story of him and his Mother’s COVID-19 experience. The moment in the story that stood out to me was when his mother did not want to fight for her life, contrary to what David and his family wanted. In this poem I attempted to empathetically explore the possible perspective of both the ill mother and her son, on pain, life, death, hope, love, and courage, in such moments of suffering from this mysterious deadly illness.

Poet biography:
Natalie Fasheh is a Palestinian-Jordanian emerging singer, poet, community-engaged artist, and choral musician. She leads vocal ensemble experiences rooted in empowerment, cultural awareness, and activism. Natalie works with singing communities of varying ages and lifestyles as a choir conductor, teaching artist, and mentor for young people. She is the co-founder and co- director of Mosaic Music Collective: joining newcomers and long-standing residents through intergenerational, multicultural song. Natalie writes poetry on themes of cultural identity, nature, and humanity. She shares Arabic folk songs as a guest singer, clinician, and choral arranger. Natalie has most recently been entwining all aspects of her artistry in designing and leading social justice-based collaborative choral composition projects.

Natalie looks forward to continuing artistically celebrating humanity’s diversity and common- threads, expanding her understanding of vocal music’s place in sociocultural dialogue and bridge-building, and exploring the multifaceted relationship between community-engaged art and choral art.

Composer biography:
Dr. Matthew Emery is a Canadian composer who “writes with an honesty which enchants” (Vancouver Sun). His music has been performed in twenty-six countries, and recent performance venues include the Great Wall of China, the White House and the Musikverein. Matthew has received over forty commissions and his music has been performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Chamber Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, National Youth Orchestra of Canada, National Youth Choir of Canada, European Union Youth Orchestra, Orchestra London, the Art of Time Ensemble, Rolston String Quartet, Dennis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra, and the Bach Music Festival of Canada Orchestra.


Text by Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374): Trans. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1903

I saw how tears had left their weary traces Within those eyes that once the sun outshone,
I heard those lips, in low and plaintive moan, Breathe words to stir the mountains from their places. Love, wisdom, courage, tenderness, and truth Made in their mourning strains more high and dear Than ever wove soft sounds for mortal ear;
And heaven seemed listening in such saddest ruth The very leaves upon the bough to soothe,
Such sweetness filled the blissful atmosphere.

I Breathe

Written by Natalie Fasheh

Commissioned by Chronos Vocal Ensemble for the 2020-20201 project “Breathe”. Dedicated to David Almond, his mother, family, the world’s suffering COVID-19 patients, living and

passed, and their loved ones.

December 1, 2020