top of page

Universal Thoughts (of an Unoriginal Author)

Instrumentation: Mezzo-soprano + 6 instruments

Duration: 8'

Texts (see score for redactions):

Song of Myself, No. 17

By Walt Whitman


These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they

     are not original with me,

If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to


If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are


If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.


This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,

This the common air that bathes the globe.




Song of Myself, No. 26

By Walt Whitman


Now I will do nothing but listen,

To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.


I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals,

I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,

I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,

Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,

Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,

The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,

The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence,

The heave'e'yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,

The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color'd lights,

The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars,

The slow march play'd at the head of the association marching two and two,

(They go to guard some corpse, the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)


I hear the violoncello, ('tis the young man's heart's complaint,)

I hear the key'd cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears,

It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.


I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera,

Ah this indeed is music—this suits me.


A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me,

The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.


I hear the train'd soprano (what work with hers is this?)

The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,

It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess'd them,

It sails me, I dab with bare feet, they are lick'd by the indolent waves,

I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath,

Steep'd amid honey'd morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,

At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,

And that we call Being.





By Carl Sandburg


The single clenched fist lifted and ready,

Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.


For we meet by one or the other.




Who Am I?

By Carl Sandburg


My head knocks against the stars.

My feet are on the hilltops.

My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of universal life.

Down in the sounding foam of primal things I reach my hands and play with pebbles of destiny.

I have been to hell and back many times.

I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.

I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.

I know the passionate seizure of beauty

And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs reading "Keep Off."


My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive in the universe.





By Carl Sandburg


The fog comes

on little cat feet.


It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

Program Notes: 

I have recently become fascinated by the idea of non-linearity. The concept of interrupting a direct storyline and then returning to it later offers countless artistic opportunities that can deeply convey feelings or beliefs without bluntly stating them to the audience. With this in mind, I began thinking about how this could be applied in music in my listening and my composition.


Universal Thoughts is an attempt to utilize the ideas of multiple storylines and non-linear development in a short chamber work. The project began by drawing out the similar themes and features in five poems by Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman and arranging them into a nested structure. Within and around this structure, I could develop my concepts and allow the texts to interact with each other in ways that were not always direct or linear. Further reflecting this idea are the interaction of different sound worlds developed within the piece, and the relationships between the ensemble and performers themselves. The piece draws its inspiration from the texts, but I hope that in turn, the music can bring new appreciation for these texts for all who hear it.

Completed: June 2021

bottom of page