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Cowboy Songs of the American Southwest

TTBB unaccompanied

These four cowboy songs that make up the song cycle "Cowboy Songs of the American Southwest" are among the nearly 3,000 field recordings recorded in the U.S. Southwest, Mexico and Spain collected by John Donald Robb over 40 year while at the University of New Mexico.  These recordings preserve many of the musical traditions of these areas, especially New Mexico and Southern Colorado, and include Native American, Hispano, Mexican and African American music, as well as railroad and cowboy songs, fiddle music and the music of festivals and fiestas.

I.  The Call of the Range— Evocative of a carefree, lone cowboy singing while strumming his ukulele.  Barbershop harmonies, similar to ukulele harmonies, suggest a personification of both the ukulele and the rangeland itself as a character in the unfolding drama of the seemingly solitary cowboy.
II. I'm Sad and I'm Lonely— Whispered syllables and whistles evoke percussion and a bowed saw in this despondent tale of unrequited love and solitude.
III. Wild Horse of the Desert— The melody fights with the downbeat to mimic the wild horse fighting against land rights and fencing.
IV. When Cockle Shells Turn Silver Bells— An overly carefree, lighthearted shrug at lost love to embrace the lone cowboy lifestyle.

Because of restrictions on the John Donald Robb field recordings housed at the University of New Mexico, movements I "The Call of the Range" and III "Wild Horse of the Desert" are offered without charge with the purchase of public domain arrangements of II. "I'm Sad and I'm Lonely" and IV. "When Cockle Shells Turn Silver Bells" forming an entire song cycle.

I. The Call of the Range: Click HERE for recording

II. I'm Sad and I'm Lonely: Click HERE for recording


Fugue (in c minor, BWV 847 from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I)

SATB unaccompanied with optional improvised Vocal Percussion

Originally designating a pearl of irregular shape, "Baroque" describes a style of European architecture, music, and art of the 17th and 18th centuries that is characterized by ornate detail. Jazz, by contrast, is described by Louis Armstrong as "If you have to ask what it is, you'll never know."  To introduce the elaborate works of Bach in the freedom of a vocal jazz idiom is a concept which is a match made in heaven by Ward Swingle.


This piece is a fusion of Baroque and jazz styles offered in the "Swingle style."  Ward Swingle studied music, particularly jazz, from a very young age.  He specialized in scat singing  jazz standards and subsequently applied the scat singing idea to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.  This concept was the foundation for The Swingle Singers whose early recordings won five Grammy Awards.


In the spirit of Ward Swingle, "Fugue"is set with scat lyrics with improvised vocal percussion.

Click HERE for recording

Click HERE for video


Git Along Little Dogies

SA(T)B, Two-Part Treble, or Unison with Piano and optional Guitar, Ukulele, Mandolin, and Bass

2016 Idaho Middle School All-State Choir, inaugural year

2016 Northshore 6th Grade Honor Choir, boys


Conceived using the SA(T)B concept and also available in Two-Part Treble and Unison voicings, Git Along Little Dogies is a traditional American cowboy ballad.  The melody and lyrics were first published in 1910 in John Lomax's "Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads," though the song has existed long before publication in the anonymous aural tradition of folk music.


Since selling cattle was quite profitable, a crew of cowboys "drove" a herd, particularly from Texas, to railheads where they would be loaded into railcars and shipped cross-country to get the best price at market. Cowboys watched the cattle 24 hours a day, herding them in the proper direction in the daytime and watching them at night to prevent stampedes and deter theft.  Around the campfire, cowboys sang of life on the trail with all the challenges, hardships, and dangers encountered along the way.


E. C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott, honored in the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, explains "The singing was supposed to soothe the cattle and it did... The two men on guard would circle around with their horses on a walk, if it was a clear night and the cattle was bedded down and quiet, and one man would sing a verse of a song, and his partner on the other side of the herd would sing another verse; and you'd go through a whole song that way."


Click HERE for recording



SSA with Choral Solos and Piano

I often find it difficult to find music for grown women: much treble repertoire is written for children's ranges and feature children's themes, and the remainder seems to be about romantic relationships.  When searching for a text that speaks to the nature of a woman, I found Emily Dickinson's little-known "For largest Woman's Heart I knew."  It seemed to pair naturally with "Heart! We will forget him!" and provide context rooted in personal strength.


While Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime, usually altered significantly to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time.  A complete, and mostly unaltered, scholarly collection of her poetry first became available five full years after Aaron Copland's musical settings of her poetry.  I took the opportunity to explore what Copland never had the chance to: Emily Dickinson's poem as the poet had conceived it, unedited, and with the punctuation she intended.

Click HERE for recording


The Huron Carol

SATB unaccompanied with Flute

I was introduced to this tune from a beautiful children's picture book illustrated by Frances Tyrrell.  The imagery of the Christ child appearing in a far-removed cultural context was eye-opening as I considered the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus I knew.  I was delighted to find a lesser-known, hauntingly beautiful, and fresh Christmas piece in the face of more familiar carols.  It was like re-discovering the nativity story for the first time through someone else's perspective.


Click HERE for recording


If I Had a Hammer

Two-Part Mixed with Piano

"If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)" is a song written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949.  Written in support of the progressive movement, it was first recorded by The Weavers, a folk music quartet composed of Seeger, Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. The song was first performed publicly at a testimonial dinner for the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States who were then on trial in federal court, charged with advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government.  The song fared notably better in commercial terms when it was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary a dozen years later.


This arrangement is well-suited for choirs of adult beginners, and was commissioned by Dr. Adam Burdick for the North Seattle Community College Choir.


Click HERE for recording


Lights of the Western Sky

SSA Chorus with Soloists, Percussion, and Bluegrass Ensemble

"Lights of the Western Sky" is a compilation of 3 celestial American folk songs collected by Ruth Crawford Seeger, commissioned by Casper Children's Chorale to celebrate the 2017 total solar eclipse visible in Casper, Wyoming in honor of Mick McMurray.  The pieces are connected not only by the folk style and the star subject, but also by tracing the course of a day, and by focusing on the connection of the outer world to the inner soul.


I.  Bright Morning Stars-- An additive processional on the ultimate theme of children singing.  Though the traditional verses state that the fathers are "down in the valley a-prayin''' and the mothers have "gone to heaven a-shoutin'" (or vice versa), the lyrics have been freely adapted in the folk tradition of "floating verses" (adapting lyrics to personal experience) to describe the children's experience.  The opening percussion motif is intended to evoke Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

II. Oh, Watch the Stars-- "Oh, Watch the Stars" and "Great Big Stars," combined in unique ways.  The two songs used, "Oh, Watch the Stars" and "Great Big Stars," are distinct in their own right.  They have been fused together in this movement, borrowing the text from one and using the tune from the other, and modifying one to partner with the other when presented simultaneously.  A fusion of two styles, this movement opens solemnly and culminates in a "hoedown showdown."​


Read about "Lights of the Western Sky" (SSA) in the Casper (WY) Star Tribune, May 8, 2017.


Click HERE for recording

$8.50 score and parts, $3 ea for choral parts

Lost Songs of Ancient Ireland

SATB and Treble Descant with Piano or Harp, Bodhran, and Irish Flute

Commissioned by Cora Voce; Tacoma, WA

Included in Project : Encore 2017, Quarter 1: PROJECT : ENCORE™ has found this work to be of exceptional merit and has included it in the  exclusive P:E Catalog of Contemporary Choral Music

"Lost Songs of Ancient Ireland," for Mixed Choir with Treble Descant, Piano or Harp, Bodhran, Irish Flute, and Violin, is a three-movement song cycle that focuses on the shifting relationships over the scope of a lifetime from the differing perspective of each person involved.


I.  Old Beggarman— Two interwoven jigs, "It Was an Old Beggarman, Weary and Wet" and "Ag an mBóithrín Buí (At the Yellow Little Road)," of both a young lady's observation of a wandering beggarman and his unrequited, possibly unexpressed, love for her.  They are offered together as alternate perspectives from potential romantic partners, and  features lilting, mouth music, or portaireacht bhéil (port a'bhéil, "mouth-singing") as it is known in Irish Gaelic.

II.  I Would Rock My Child to Sleep— A sentimental Irish lullaby Irish lullaby "Do Chuirfinnse Féin Mo Leanbh a Chodladh (I Would Put My Own Child to Sleep)" highlights the shifting roles of a caregiver: the parent full of hopes of the parent for the child morphing over a lifetime into a blessing from the grown child to the aged parent. Each verse is progressively based upon an overall narrative:
    1. hopes of the parent for the child
    2. an easy, natural rhythm to family life, possibly the child is older now, and there is a dream of family continuance
    3. uncertainty over who is nurturing who: does the child now sing to comfort the parent?  
    4. a closing blessing for peace and rest that hearkens back to the successful sleep of a tired infant 

III.  The Drummer— An energetic reel,  a combination of "Maidin Fhómhair, nó Cailín Péacach (The Harvest Maiden, or Sprouting Maiden)" and "Cormac Spáinneach, nó An Drumadóir (Cormac Spaineach, or The Drummer)," alternating between romantic partners encased by a nostalgic love song, suggesting the passing of a lifetime.

Click HERE for recording


Mozart's At the Window

SATB or Two-Part Treble with Piano

Text and concept by Gunnar Madsen

Music abridged from W. A. Mozart's Symphony No.40 in G minor, K.550 IV. Allegro assai


After getting absolutely sick of the inane music I'd been playing for my young children in the car, I was elated to discover Gunnar Madsen's CD "I'm Growing" featuring "Mozart's At the Window."  The kids were delighted with this funny song about some naughty kid, and my husband and I were delighted with the enormous improvement of musical quality in our vehicle.  It was shortly thereafter that this choral arrangement was born.


Gunnar writes, "In my first music theory class in college, the teacher and the students were recalling the silly ways they'd been taught to remember classical melodies when they were young.  One of them was for Mozart's 40th symphony (which I'd never heard) which consisted of "Now Mozart's at the window - Let him in, Let him in, Let him in".  What an ear-worm!  For 25 years now I've dreamt of expanding that ditty into something more substantial, and now I'm proud to present the finished piece.  I'm really going to get a kick of sending this one to my teacher!"


Click HERE for recording


On This Day Earth Shall Ring (Personet Hodie)

TB or TBB Chorus with Piano

"Personent Hodie" is a Christmas carol originally published in the 1582 Finnish song book Piae Cantiones, a volume of 74 Medieval songs with Latin texts.  Arranged for unison voices and orchestra in 1916 by Gustav Holst (1874–1934),  it is often used as a processional hymn in church and cathedral services.  The text is translated by "James M. Joseph," a pseudonym of the composer Jane M. Joseph (1894–1929).


Click HERE for recording


Sailing on the Dew

SATB or Two-Part Treble with Piano

Commissioned for the Redmond Centennial Celebration with themes of "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," this faux sea-chanty is a fictional account of the "Jennie June" which may or may not have played a role in helping homesteaders settle Redmond, WA.  Redmond is the homesite of Microsoft, other tech companies, and many new start-ups.  This contemporary adventure- and fortune-seeking hearkens back to the settling of the area and forward to what sort of spirit of adventure will draw future homesteaders to the area.

The muddy Squak River was so shallow, boats were said to be "sailing on the dew" and to take so long that boats would sail up in January and return in June.  It was slow-going from Seattle to the Eastside until they got the right vessel for the job.  The water was too shallow for paddle steamers, and the Jennie June was a much-beloved vessel with a propeller on the back to better navigate the difficult river.


Click HERE for recording.


Two Sacred American Folk Songs

SATB unaccompanied

This collection of Two Sacred American Folk Songs are purposefully chosen and paired as a question and resolution to a spiritual journey.


I. Shepherd, Shepherd: The first in a set of two, "Shepherd, Shepherd" is a spiritual included in John W. Work's collection of "American Negro Songs and Spirituals," published in 1940.  It is also included in Ruth Crawford Seeger's collection "American Folk Songs for Christmas."  Though two illustrious collectors included this beautiful song, it is little-known, possibly because it was not popularized by historic performances by the Jubilee Singers who brought awareness to the musical richness of African-American Choral Music and associated repertoire.

II. Child of God:  Much American folk music features the use of instruments.  In the absence of available instruments, in the presence of a religious culture that may frown upon instrumental usage, and/or influenced by Irish culture that mimics instrumental textures as a form of "mouth music," this a cappella piece is fully orchestrated.  Personally, I absolutely adore the idea of the Christ child singing softly.  This idea was the genesis of this arrangement.  The nature of the human voice can both deliver text as well as deliver an abstract timbre through the text.  In this piece, both uses of the voice interact between the text and the voice as orchestration.  When the Christ child sings, the instrumental texture shifts to "la."  When the wind blows, the accompanimental texture is still text-driven, but on a more closed vowel [o] of "blow" to mimic the wind.  Personally, I absolutely adore the idea of the Christ child singing softly.  This idea was the genesis of this arrangement.


Click HERE for recording


Vivaldi "Winter:" Kyrie and Gloria

SATB unaccompanied

This arrangement of "Vivaldi's 'Winter'" was written for a cappella small ensemble, in the hope to balance a heavily sacred Baroque concert in December 2017.


The text offered is the "Kyrie" and "Gloria" from the ordinary mass, which has become a sort of blank canvas for composers to creatively express their individuality, or in this case, to translate instrumental textures in a choral medium.  Why should string players have all the Vivaldi "Four Seasons" fun?



We Learned the Whole of Love

SATB with Piano

Included in Project : Encore, 2017, Quarter 2: PROJECT : ENCORE™ has found this work to be of exceptional merit and has included it in the  exclusive P:E Catalog of Contemporary Choral Music

In the wisdom or fog of High School, I would daydream about what love truly was. I pined away from summer camp for the boy back home, imagining that I had found the Real Thing.  It is now several decades later, and after a few bumps and bruises suffered from trying to figure out just what "true love" actually is, I have discovered that this text is more about the journey of love and not about the destination.  This poem, like great Art, shifts and changes in meaning as the reader grows in understanding and changes.  I imagine that Love is like Art in this way— shifting in meaning over a lifetime of maturity and growth.


Click HERE for recording


The Wind that Shakes the Barley

SATB with Piano or Harp

NWACDA Convention 2008

Oregon OMEA All-State Choir 2010

Liederkranz Reading Session 2010

GIA: "This is the ballad of a young Wexford rebel facing the 1798 uproar in Ireland. His life changes while spending a few last moments with his true love before joining the rebellion. Rebels carried barley oats as provisions which later grew in unexpected places, indicating the unmarked mass graves for slain rebels in Ireland. With piano or harp, this is a lovely and haunting piece unforgettable for singers and audiences."

Click HERE for recording

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