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Walt Whitman Settings?

Hello All,
I direct a semi-professional SATB chamber choir of 16-25, and am looking to do a concert based on texts of Walt Whitman. I know of "Dona Nobis Pacem" by R.V. Williams, and "My Spirit is Uncaged" by Paul Rardin. The feasibility of those with a group our size is a different story, however. We generally do a cappella music, but will use piano if necessary. Solo instruments are also a possibility. So, if any of you know of pieces that will fit, please send them my way! 
In Music,
Joseph Mendolia, M.M.
Soaring Sounds Vocal Ensemble
Replies (32): Threaded | Chronological
on June 13, 2014 9:49pm
There is, of course, Norman Dello Joio’s “A Jubilant Song.”  This wonderful post-World War Two celebration is a great work for almost any mixed chorus.  Lesser known is his collection “Songs of Walt Whitman” written some 20 years latter.  As usual with Dello Joio, you will probably want an extra hand on the piano keyboard to cover everything in the score.  Great music, all the way around!
Hope that helps.
Michael A. Gray
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 14, 2014 5:17am
We've sung Jeffrey Vaughan's "A Procession Winding Around Me" a couple times (college choir of 20-30).  Choir with solo guitar.  Several movements of Whitman texts on the Civil War.  Definitely worth a listen.  There are many samples available on YouTube - no idea of quality.
on June 14, 2014 5:19am
I've composed a setting of "I Hear America Singing," (4:50), SATB and organ and solo clarinet, OR SATB and piano, clarinet and cello (without a good 16' bass line in the organ the cello is
needed if piano is used instead, but one could do without). A skilled smaller chorus can do an excellent performance. It has not yet been performed. This is a very cheerful work somewhat in the style of 17th C. English verse anthems. Moderately challenging but only that. If you are interested I can provide a PDF of the Sibelius score, and an mp3 audio file.  Please provide your direct email address. 
James Johnson
Williams BA '64, Yale DMA '78, organist in Adolphus Busch Hall at Harvard 1971-1991,
ASCAP, AGO, Mensa, Who's Who in America,
on June 15, 2014 2:30pm
Yes, I am very interested as we have a skilled organist with whom we work. My email is joe(a)
Thank you!
on June 14, 2014 5:56am
I sang in a performance of A Procession Winding Around Me by Jeffrey Van this past May.  Cannot recommend it enough.  You need an accomplished guitarist to accompany.  Whitman's stark, poignant, reflections on the carnage of the war.  
Also, may I recommend Dello Joio's Song of the Open Road?  Piano and trumpet accompany this music. Texts are passages from Whitman's  A Song of Myself. Good luck in your search.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 14, 2014 6:22am
In addition to the suggestions already made, I would add William Schuman's Carols of Death (three Whitman texts -- amazing pieces), Howard Hanson's Song of Democracy (scored for orch or band w/ cho, but I recently performed successfuly with piano), and Vaughan Williams Toward th Unknown Region.  Also, in Frederick Piket's set Six About Love, there is a setting of Once I Passed Through a Populous City (I have never done this, but it is in our library).  
Bruce Borton
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 14, 2014 6:46am
Please consider my setting for unaccompanied SATB choir of Whitman's To a Locomotive in Winter.  You may download a free perusal PDF score, listen to a recording and more on my website: 
Here's a video of a performance by The Pink Singers of London:
on June 14, 2014 8:19am
Joseph, I have an SSAATTBB a cap. setting of Whiman's powerful anti-war poem, "Turn, O Libertad!", that I'd just transcribed earlier this year for another chorus from the original SATB + piano 4 hands / orchestra versions.  You can hear a midi of the piano 4 hands version on my site,  Click on Secular Choral, scroll down to title and click on blue play tab.  If you're interested in perusing a sample chart, just let me know: Ken at PrinceSF dot com.
Thanks for the consideration,
on June 14, 2014 9:06am
My piece Great is Life (SATB divisi a cappella), based on extracts from Whitman's Leaves of Grass, was premiered by Chicago A Cappella, a small professional ensemble.  Perusal score and recording on my website.  Would be delighted if it caught your interest.
Best wishes
Sheena Phillips
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 15, 2014 2:42pm
Love it! Will definitely be programming it!!
on June 14, 2014 9:08am
Vincent Persichetti's great "Celebrations" come to mind.  Very nice cantata for chorus and winds that I've done successfully with piano.  You could perform selections.  
You might also consider my "Memories of Lincoln" for SATB & piano. It's a Whitman text, setting for chorus a century-old art song by William Neidlinger.  Premiered successfully in Germany in 2013, it's especially appropriate for 2015, the 150th anniversary of Linoln's assassination.  Details at this page at my website.  All the best, 
Christopher J. Hoh
on June 14, 2014 10:33am
Randall Thompson's The Last Invocation. My choir just did that for the second time.  I was surrounded by new members when we sang it through for the first time, and they were all "I love this piece!" afterwards. It's exquisite, such a pleasure to sing.
I also want to second the suggestion of Toward the Unkown Region by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Another one of my favorites.
on June 14, 2014 12:43pm
I've got two pieces that I can suggest of my own.

Something There is Immortal, SSATBB a cappella
The performance online is of VocalEssence singing it last year at the MN ACDA conference.

And Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, SATB (div.) a cappella
I wrote this piece for TTBB choir a few years ago, and have recently made a new SATB version of it, which has not been premiered yet. Here's a link to the TTBB version.
This performance is Bowling Green State University Men's Choir singing it at OMEA.

I have a couple other settings of Whitman for men's voices, if you're interested in having just your men sing alone.

on June 14, 2014 1:24pm
Hi Joseph,
I've got three Whitman settings, two a cappella, and one with solo trumpet accompaniment.
The Last Invocation, available from Hal Leonard
(audio link for The Last Invocation:
Lilacs, available from my self-publishing entity Beady Eyes Publishing
The Mystic Trumpeter, also available from Beady Eyes Publishing
Best of luck with your search,
Carol Barnett
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 14, 2014 2:54pm
Paul Creston's "Leaves of Grass" Op. 100 from 1970.
I found a YouTube performance at:
The second work in Paul Creston's "The Celestial Vision" is a very setting of Whitman's "song of myself," but for Men's chorus. Those three works are fantastic.
Nobody seems to perform Creston's music anymore. Sad.
on June 14, 2014 4:16pm
I have a couple of Walt Whitman settings that I wrote for a "semi-professional chamber choir of 25" that I conduct, the Cambridge Chamber Singers.  What's your email, and I'll send you copies.  Mine is rfahrner(a)
Ray Fahrner
on June 14, 2014 6:58pm
Has anyone performed Roy Harris's Symphony for Voices based on three Walt Whitman texts? I would like to know.
Michael Hennagin wrote settings to 3 Walt Whitman poems, published by Walton. Not easy but most rewarding! We samg them 10 years ago and my singers are still asking to do them again.
Andrea Goodman
on June 14, 2014 8:52pm
Dear Joseph,
I've made a setting of a short excerpt from Song of Myself, "The Moth and the Fish Eggs," in the form of a rather complex, lush 4-part round for SATB.  You can listen to it and download a perusal score here; it's the third piece on the page:
In the recording, alll four parts don't come in until about 1'45".
best wishes,
Anna Dembska
on June 15, 2014 9:28am
It is a large work, originally for orchestra, but it works with piano very well ... Hindemith's "Requiem for Those We Love" ... it opens with the text, "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed" and it's just a miraculous piece.  A really good pianist can handle the orchestral reduction that comes in the choral parts.  Can't recommend it highly enough.  Particularly for a really fine group, and it can be done by a chamber sized choir.  At least take a look at the score!
on June 15, 2014 8:36pm
on June 16, 2014 8:05am
Another Hanson is "Beat Beat Drums." Easier and shorter than "Song of Democracy." I LOVE the Schuman "Carols of Death!"
on June 17, 2014 8:43am

I have a piece I composed a couple of years ago for Soprano, Baritone and optional closed-lid piano, that would sound great with a choir of this size. The ranges are do-able with the men on the lower part and the women on the higher part - though, the altos and basses may need to allow the sopranos and tenors to pick up some of the power on a couple of the higher notes (Eb's) and vice versa (lowest nots is a Bb).

Here is a link to a recording made before I added the part for closed-lid piano:
I can email a score if you are interested.

Kevin Quigley
on June 17, 2014 12:31pm
I would suggest taking a look at Nicholas Omiccioli's "A Song of Joys". The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers recorded it, and my group, Harmonia Chamber Singers, performed it this spring. It is an exciting, dynamic, and challenging piece. Best of luck!
on June 18, 2014 3:08am
I recommened Daron Hagen's Walt Whitman Requiem.  A work written some time back by one of the best composers for voice.  
on June 18, 2014 6:55am
I can highly recommend a setting of Come, Lovely and Soothing Death by Canadian composer James Rolfe. Self-published, it is scored for SSAATTBB a cappella. Arresting setting with a powerful conclusion, ca 4' duration. Write me directly and I can provide you with a sound file and pdf: lratzlaf(a) You will find more information about Rolfe on the Canadian Music Centre website:
Len Ratzlaff
on June 19, 2014 7:14am
Here's one from me available on the See-A-Dot Music Publishing website. it's straight forward, melodic, and lush. 4 parts and acappella.
Score and recording available here:
on June 20, 2014 8:03am
I have 3 settings of Whitman's Prairie Poems, which were featured on a College Music Society composer's concert this spring, but unpublished.  The do require piano but of E-M difficulty.  They were originally for chamber choir and some sections are unaccompanied.  They are:
The Prairie-Grass Dividing, The Prairie States, and A Prairie Sunset.  The were performed by the U of AR-Ft. Smith Chorale this spring.  I can send pdfs and a recording if you desire. Please respond privately.
Donald Callen Freed
Professor of Voice and Director of Choirs
Sul Ross State University
Alpine, Texas
on June 20, 2014 8:13am
Always was fond of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry from 'Leaves...'Sang it with Amy Kaiser 3 decades ago!
 It was composed by Virgil Thomson- i think in 5 voices. 
Good luck in finding a copy however!
on June 20, 2014 4:37pm
David Conte's "Invocation and Dance" might work for your group.  It's available for SATB, and does use piano (4 hands) and some percussion, but it is a stunning work.
Text drawn from "When Lilacs Last By the Dooryard Bloom'd." 
Lana Mountford
Bellingham, WA
on June 21, 2014 10:45am
This may not work for your choir, since there is an extensive bass solo and the choir is split, but I stumbled across this while looking for other Charles Wood music. Here is a link to the PD vocal score on Google Books.
Dirge for Two Veterans - Charles Wood
on June 23, 2014 9:33am
Hi Joseph,
I can recommend two beautiful Whitman settings ("Joy, Shipmate Joy" and "O Captain My Captain") by Ted Masur <>;.
They're both fairly simple (intermediate difficulty) and very effective.
Jeffrey Bernstein
Artistic & Executive Director
Pasadena Master Chorale
on June 30, 2014 10:54am

"Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight"

"O Captain! My Captain!"


by John White

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