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

SATB A Cappella

4 min

Text: Petrarch

Publisher: TBD, email for score

Commissioned by Chronos Vocal Ensemble, Jordan Van Biert, conductor Dedicated to the memory of Anna Maria Almond, and all victims of COVID-19

VIDEO of Digital Premiere

Francesco Petrarca [1304-1374], in the public domain. VI [excerpt, adapted by the composer]

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.

Notes on piece

This composition alternates homophonic chorale-like writing with a melody and accompaniment type writing in a ABAB form. The juxtaposition of these gestures alludes to the world at the time of composition; a world filled with uncertainty, chaos, strife, hope, compassion and love. At times the music is at odds with the dissonance or angularity of the musical phrase, at other times the music is lush, warm, and settled. The piece is a reminder that in the midst of turbulence and unknowns, may we hold dear the value of love, wisdom, courage, tenderness and truth.

Interview on the piece

Be Still, My Heart
SATB A Cappella
2 min duration
Rabindranath Tagore text

Pavane Publishing 2023 [to be released yet]

“Be still, my heart, these great trees are prayers”

Commissioned by Dr. Mark Ramsay for the Exultate Chamber Singers, and the Western University Choirs

“Be Still, My Heart” is a work for mixed chorus. A few measures long, it is enough to temporarily transport, and uplift us away to a place of warmth and comfort. The music came to me one morning, as I began my writing day for what I thought was going to be a canonic piece for treble voices. I began to improvise on what is the opening phrase; it’s as if the music harnessed my conflicting emotions of hope, longing, despair, worry and grief. I came back to this opening phrase throughout the day, and for a few days straight, sculpting away like statue taking shape from stone. The music was my own personal hymn for peace and stability during the oncoming second wave of COVID-19. The poetry came second, a short fleeing thought by Rabindranath Tagore that looking back now, fit perfectly on many levels. Looking out my window in rural Ontario, I see pastures, forests, and streams. I find moments of calmness and stability while surrounded by nature as if its purpose is to comfort, to inspire; to cleanse.

Composer playing the song on piano
Concreamus Chamber Choir – Kai Leung
39:54 to hear the piece

Flute, Alto Flute and Piano
3 min duration
Purchase: here (usa) or from the publisher (canada) here


Where Branches Tangle the Sky

This composition for Flute, Alto Flute and Piano mixes polyphonic flute writing with more homophonic chorale-like textures in the piano. The harmonies in the piano are both stable and unstable at the same time. There is a tension in the work created by balancing various voicing of added note sonorities in both the harmony and melodic gestures. These contemporary idioms bring both a modern freshness to the traditional phrasing and structure of the work. The music frequently uses thirds and sixths taking inspiration from O Canada. Where Branches Tangle the Sky evokes images of life during COVID-19; moments of fragility, hope, anger, tension, passion, questioning, meandering – all inspire the gestures in this composition. The title is a recontextualization of a line from a usually unsung verse from Canada’s national anthem: where pines and maples grow; the evocative title alludes to the imagery of Canada’s rich landscape and natural beauty, as well as opening possibilities for reflection and reconciliation.

To be premiered virtually fall 2020, live 2021

String Quartet
Commissioned by the Odin String Quartet for their lockdown lullabies project.
3 min

Email for score purchase [score and parts $30 PDF]

Program Note:
“There is nowhere else but ‘here’” makes use of sustained tones, gentle melodic flourishes, homophonic textures, and contrasts of range and timbre to evocatively bring forth a calming musical lullaby. The music ebbs and flows, like a soft flame from a dwindling campfire. Phrases gently blossom, melodies intermingle with diatonic distances agains the hushed sustained sonorities. The work is inspired by the image of looking to what exists, the ordinary, the unremarkable and finding inspiration and meaning there. During the global crisis of COVID-19 our worlds were withheld, restricted and shattered; we looked to our immediate surroundings for everything. This piece is a mediation on the idea of ‘here’.

Video performance:

2 min
SATB A cappella
Text by Carl Sandburg (Public Domain Canada)
Email for score

Commissioned by Dr. Joseph Ohrt. Central Bucks West Choir, for the Toronto Composition Summit 2018, Toronto Canada

And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs, their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.