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Vocal Works

  • Ephemeral Moments: from an opera
  • A Page Out Of Zen
  • Obscure Songs
  • Sonnets from the Portuguese
  • Birdsongs
  • Humanity Divine

Ephemeral Moments: from an opera

for soprano and piano

Duration - approx.15 minutes

Program Notes:

Ephemeral Memories is a collection of short moments from my opera, Songs from Behind the Curtain. The libretto is original, except for III-The Waning Moon, which is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Upon completing my opera, I had both a profound sense of accomplishment, as well as sadness. The work made me happy, but the prospects for its complete performance did not. As a way to mitigate the work, and to disseminate it without requiring a full staging, I teased out a collection of miniatures for individual performance by soprano and piano. Not all the movements were originally written for soprano or even the same character, so no need to try and decipher the narrative of the bigger work. These are just short, self-contained scenes that hopefully need no introduction or no continuation...they are, as the title suggests, ephemeral moments.


Premiered by Elisabeth Halliday, Rachel Gawell, and Zach Herchen in February, 2015.

A Page Out of Zen

for tenor and piano

I - A Page Out of Zen
II - Linekin
III - Situs
IV - Jarred

Text by Stephen Campiglio

Duration - approx. 12 minutes

Program Notes:

A Page Out of Zen  was written for and with the assistance of David Tayloe.

I first encountered the poetry of Stephen Campiglio when I joined a “spoken word improv trio” with him and the drummer Jay Wood. I appreciated the imagery and the “rawness” of his poetry (especially when he is reading them to a drum and Fender Rhodes accompaniment), and asked him to send me a sampling of poems for a possible cycle. Of the collection he sent me, these four stuck out as a set almost immediately. They all have the same tone to me, and I felt that combined they would make a nice set. I sent them to David, who agreed, and I got to work.

The set was completed near the end of 2012, but, due to a possible curse by a fortune teller, the premier kept being delayed again and again. Finally, in 2015 I was able to bring David out to Hartford for a concert (two days before he was hooded with his PhD) and I enlisted Marko to play the piano part. I had, frankly, forgotten about these songs and so during our first rehearsal I heard them with an unusual freshness. During their first rehearsal (and having never met or talked with each other), David and Marko nailed the piece. The concert was fantastic and I have rediscovered why I was so excited about these pieces in the first place.

 –Ryan Jesperson
12/1/2012 West Hartford, CT

Premiered by David Tayloe and Marko Stuparevic in May, 2015.

Obscure Songs

for SSAA Voices (TTBB and SATB versions also available)

total duration app. 8 minutes

A Dream Itself (after Shakespeare) – 3’

there are some who believe... – 2’30”


Obscure Songs is a collection of homage pieces I wrote for use in an ArtSounds collaboration in April of 2010. The style, although not completely my own, nonetheless resonated with me and I felt that they would work well as a small set for four voices or a treble choir.

“A Dream Itself” is modeled after a line from Hamlet. The beginning of a line is repeated the same three times, each time ending differently. The repeated notes in the voices is intended to make a rhythmic disjunctness akin to beats in non-perfect intervals.

“there are some who believe” uses a form of Arvo Part’s tintinnabulation as the basis for a philosophical treatise by Bertrand Russell. The whole piece is very static, with a lone, interesting resolution near the end.

“MASS-if BINARY” is in the Palestrina style (almost). The text is binary code for the word “alone”, although the first four digits of each letter (a binary letter has eight numerals) has been left off since it is relatively inconsequential. Remember I said it is almost in the Palestrina style. Certain liberties were taken to create something slightly more interesting than an exercise.

I have really grown to love these little pieces and I hope you do as well.

–Ryan Jesperson 4/11/2010, Kansas City, MO.


Obscure Songs were performed and recorded for use in an ArtSounds event on April 13th, 2010. The concert version has not yet been performed.


Sonnets from the Portuguese

for SATB choir

Duration: appr. 10 min.

Program Notes:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 44 love poems to her husband comprise the collection Sonnets from the Portuguese. Of course these poems were completely original, but the fancy title was suggested by Elizabeth’s husband, Robert, as a way to mask the intense personal feelings in her poems. The most famous of the Sonnets is poem 43, “How do I love thee? Let me count the way.”

I came across the collection while searching for love poetry to set for choir. Of all the works I had been reading through, the Sonnets immediately caught my attention and drew my ear to the possibility of sounds that the words evoked. While my work carries the same title As Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 44-poem collection, this version only contains three settings of poems. I chose 10-12 because to me they spoke to me not as individual thoughts but as a three-part singularity.

There were many other poems that would have worked just as well, but that will have to be a project for another day. For now, enjoy my modest setting of Sonnets from the Portuguese.

 –Ryan Jesperson 9/26/2009, Kansas City, MO.

X “Yet, Love”
Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax; an equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee...mark!... I love thee—in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There’s nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature’s.

XI “And Therefore if to Love”

And therefore if to love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart, —
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now ‘gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy music, —why advert
To these things? O Belovèd, it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace,
To live on still in love, and yet in vain, —
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.

XII “Indeed, this very Love”
Indeed this very love which is my boast,
And which, when rising up from breast to brow,
Doth crown me with a ruby large enow
To draw men’s eyes and prove the inner cost, —
This love even, all my worth, to the uttermost,
I should not love withal, unless that thou
Hadst set me an example, shown me how,
When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed,
And love called love. And thus, I cannot speak
Of love even, as a good thing of my own:
Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,
And placed it by thee on a golden throne, —
And that I love (O soul, we must be meek!)
Is by thee only, who I love alone.


The third movement, "Indeed This Very Love" was premeired by Charles Bruffy and the Kansas City Chorale in March of 2010. Sonnets from the Portuguese won the 2010 Kansas City Chorale Composition Competition.

Kansas City Chorale
Charles Bruffy and the Kansas City Chorale


for medium voice and piano

total duration app. 24 minutes

I-The Dead (2:30)
II-Birdsong (4: 00)
III-In Medias Res (2:40)
IV-Middle March (2:30)
V-What I Want Is (3:00)
VI-Altruists (2:20)
VII-I Am Noah (3:40)
VIII-Vainglorious (1:40)

Program Notes:

Birdsongs was written for and with the assistance of Ashly Evans. She first introduced me to the wonderful poems of Rebecca Bauman when I offered to write a cycle for her on any texts of her choosing. These songs are dedicated to her, may they help her fly high above the rest…

I chose the eight poems for Birdsongs out of many that Ms. Bauman had posted on her website. These poems were not originally meant to be placed together, but I feel that they create a sort of collage or image of what it means to be a women in the 21st century (or at least what I think it might mean, having no empirical knowledge of my own). Now this might not be Ms. Bauman’s intentions, but I think that her voice is the unifying factor within the poems, her wit and imagery a bridge toward a deeper truth. Of course I could be completely wrong…

In writing the music for these songs, I was heavily influenced by a variety of styles and forms throughout the history of vocal music. “The Dead” is directly influenced by Schumann’s Dichterliebe, “Vainglorious” by bebop jazz. “Altruists” is sort of a modern prelude and fugue, and “What I Want Is” reminds me of some strange pop song. “I Am Noah” has a quartal ostinato that to me sounds sacred, “In Medias Res” is akin to a recitative, and “Middle March” has a slight resemblance to ritornello form. “Birdsong” even includes actual birdsongs performed in the upper register of the piano as interludes between sections (thank you Messiaen). My intentions in referencing these styles and forms was not to create allusions to distant works or to parody or mimic, but rather to slightly shade the music in a history that mires up the imagination with a thousand images of beauty and tragedy. Enjoy.

–Ryan Jesperson 10/20/2008, Kansas City, MO.


Portions of Birdsongs were performed by Sharon O. Campbell and Marilyn Musick at the Nebraska at Kearney New Music Festival on March 31st, 2009. A premiere of the full work is expected by Ms. Evans in the future.

Poems by Rebecca Bauman

1. The Dead

We are deflated bladders,
bruised fruit.
Our lips and hands – chapped –
we fall away to those
hungry microorganisms
nestled, alive
between the sandy lines
of our cells.

Preserved, we are made in rouge
and ivory pancake –
glown Girlie Mag portraits
for the perverted
and the alone.

2. Birdsong

Let us not misunderstand
a screech owl’s call.
It is no more a screech
than my own hollering
across the cafeteria:

“Can I borrow two dollars for pudding?”

Later, at the table, my partner warns me
never again to screech at him in public.

And my cheeks swarm pink
for the branding.

My raised voice is not unlike this owl’s cry;
his call is a call of need, a seeking of spirit,
a sometimes mournful trill that flushes
to the killing fields of night and bears
the question: “What’s there for me?”

But how misunderstood we are,
the earnest extension of want
or feeling is labeled
a blood-thinning shriek.

Screech is a word for witches,
old haggish wives
left alone too long
with their soured thoughts,
their cold, sagging breasts
and their unmitigated understanding
that a cry is a cry is a cry
to all men

and ornithologists.

3. In Medias Res

Arnold asked Jenny to close her eyes
so as not to stare him down
during intercourse. Sometimes
he took her from behind
to avoid this query

But by then
the girl had already numbed
to the sting she'd once known
such a breach to be. There was no more
clawing at the fatty bulge above her pelvis,
no more whimpering through pursed lips.

Now was the time
of Jenny's anesthetic familiarity
with physical love.
And in her bend, her recline,
her thrust was the vestige
of a girl who'd once thought herself
well prepared.

4. Middle March

Everyone’s gone fishing this weekend –
The juice shops are quiet,
And here I am, alone in the kitchen.
Even the catbox is empty.

Standing by the sink
I probe my mouth with soapy fingers,
hoping to find someone else’s chewing gum
lodged beneath my tongue.

5. What I Want Is

To run away from myself,
to sprint at such exorbitant speeds
that I might break some unseen barrier
known only to crackpot physicists,
and separate, bluster away
a dissolute clay self,
disturbed by age
and past infirmity.

To half myself and lose
the worst, the fat
and agonizing twin
womanchild who refuses
to offer me, when pressed,
all my wit
and faculties.

To propel forward,
like a great white shuttle,
only that light,
unpolluted spirit--
whatever part of me
is designed to ascend.

Something left to save
when the rest falls limp,
wilts to personed rot,
ever lost, forgotten,
perhaps forgiven.

I think of this at night,
and twitch my feet beneath my blanket,
like a dog observed when she is dreaming.

6. Altruists

I carry this horse on my back
for fear I can’t be fair
any other way. This
is about our partnership.

Up the long road to town,
her legs extend beyond my ribs –
her hooves drag, pare trenches
through the dirt, the nip-tips
of her silver shoes wearing to dull,
perfunctory nubs.

Her tail sweeps up brickle burrs,
picks up flecks of clay; I feel as though
I am flagellated when she swats at flies.

But this is for the sake of us.
And what is sacrifice
between friends?

7. I am Noah

A morning screened to somber shade
Fetched sevens of them slick –
For in the night the gulfs they made
Had caused a wet to stick.

The rain had come with clamant deed
To drive them from the soil –
They poured onto the blacktop bead
As grasses swam in oil.

Standing there on bus-stop hill
I plucked them from the stone –
And brought them to a darker gill
Before the sun-suck shone.

Yes, some might say it sets a squirm,
But I, in fact, am Saint to worm.

8. Vainglorious

I starved myself
in New York.
For lack of funds –

I reasoned
starving left me lean
and pretty.

I thought a good man
would catch me
and take me home
to keep me, care for me –
water me, though I would
refuse his sandwiches –
his nymphet.

on a subway platform
below 53rd street
I collapsed from hunger
smashed down
to the old concrete
and cracked my face
wide open.

Humanity Divine

for medium voice and piano

Duration - approx. 20 min.

Program Notes:

I initially wrote Humanity Divine in the spring of 2005. The original text consisted of passages of Nikos Kazanztakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. However, acquiring the rights became a quixotic dream, so in the fall of 2007 I rewrote the text myself, using the themes of the original text as inspiration. Not wanting to take the brunt of writing such a loaded text myself, I decided to use passages from a variety of sources, including The Bible, The Qur’an, Dante’s Inferno, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a fragment from the original text. The result is a much more subdued and rhapsodic text, with many allusions and ambiguity. I’m not expecting it to have the same power as the original text, but I hope that it can be something else, something new and unusual and powerful and haunted.

The story remains the same. Jesus learns of his divinity and intended fate. Since he is mortal he has doubt about his divinity. This leads him to the desert where he fasts for forty days and nights, all the while tempted by Satan. After this he heads toward Jerusalem. He is betrayed by Judas (a somewhat sympathetic character in this telling) and crucified. But, before he dies he is given one final temptation, that of a normal, mortal life. It is Judas who finally arrives and helps Jesus understand what is occurring. Rid of the final temptation, Jesus dies and the rest, they say, is history.

Although not intended as blasphemous, lots of the material is counter to what conservative churches like to portray as being “Christ-like”. But is it too hard to imagine a man who doesn’t understand what he is? A man that is conflicted between the human feelings that he sees as being natural, and the Godly feelings that are forced upon him? And this man who is or maybe isn’t the last possible hope for mankind must be tempted to simply be a man and not a God, for to think one is God would be vanity and therefore a sin? This theological quagmire leads Christ to his last temptation, to forsake his death for a good, mortal life with a wife, kids, and happiness. But to deny this temptation, to choose suffering and death is what I find fascinating and truly God-like.


This piece has not been performed.

Humanity Divine

original text by Ryan Jesperson



A cool heavenly breeze took possession of him. Isa
A whisper of wind, a thought, a salty taste in his mouth
A path sent to him of ancient voices. He sleeps, tossing, restless
When the heavens burst asunder and the night departs…
He hears the whispers, “your body is weak, broken.”
His life is pain. He must taste death for everyone.
Suddenly a fear spears him, “Isa…” To live, love, leave, to die!
In a world of violent, vicious night, a wish, a desire, “Abandon all your hope, I’m not your answer.”
To be free of the struggling truth, a lie. The air had become dense, restless.



The voice rose to leave, his hair hung hiding two tired eyes. She reached for his wrist. “Are you leaving?”
How he wants to stay, no, he must leave her, but why?
In the hereafter they shall have the chastisement of fire.
She moans, she sighs, and lies in bed with her lies, he wants her to touch him.
She purrs softly in the dark, watching him. “Isa, stay with me tonight.”
He hesitates to touch her hair, her whole body trembles.
A whisper, “Mary.” He hears his own voice and retreats.
Wind whispers soft, his footsteps echo, Mary lies there frozen.



Fasting alone in the barren desert. “Why do you need me? Leave me alone. Alone, alone, alone.”
His hands were shaking rampant, “Isa”.
“He is killing me, digging his hands into my head, my heart, my loins. Why does he want me, why? What is there I can do? I am not he, No. Why? Don’t I deserve to live among men, to live a mortal life, married? A life of pride? He wants me, says I must rise up and speak, but fear has frozen my tongue.”
He cries, he weeps, hating everything he knew must come.



Restless, was his sleep. Dark were the eyes staring out of the crowd.
“Crucify him, crucify him.”
“Leave me alone, I will not lead. Doubt is my guide. I am lust, I am weak, unkind. My life is not so pure. I don’t have the courage.”
Would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth?
“And what if I fail? Is it fear that is stalking me? Must humanity suffer if I can’t set them free?”
The gathering crowd closed in, he felt weak, as if he was out of breath. He screamed at them, “Leave me alone.”
Of the twelve that followed, only one could see past his terror.
“By the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone.”


“Please don’t be shy, beloved. My love for you is strong and thicker than old growth in the ground.”
“My body is willing but my spirit is weak. Weak like the new frost.”
“Come to me. Stay near my heart, your rough hands keep me warm.”
He threw her on the ground and lay beside. Her heart burns forbidden lust.
“Stay near me, touch me.”
With his hands he stroked her long dark hair.
The sun sets, his heart felt lighter. A breeze blew.
His life was simple, purposeful, wonderful. She reached out and covered up their bodies.
Later, in the moonless night Mary purred, resting on his naked chest.



Screaming pierced the night. “Arise,” the shadowy serpent replied. “Traitor.”
Through steely slit eyes Judas stared at his Christ.
“You, you left us, condemned us. Traitor, deserter.”
“Traitor, deserter,” he bellowed again. “Your place was on the cross. That’s where the God of Israel put you to fight. I have done my part. I have given you all that you asked. I had to be strong when you were weak. You went and hid in her skirt and left us to suffer. Coward.”
All at once Jesus burst into sobs.
“Yes, I’m a traitor and I’ve hidden from my path. I’ve failed. At the cross I took flight. Temptation, yes, I should have been crucified, but I lost courage and fled.”



His eyes opened, suddenly. All that life was but a dream. She was gone. He was alone.
It is hard to leave the world, but he must. Hard to live in the world.
A thought still tempted him to be free, a lie to believe. To live without fear, only her, but he can’t, he’s the author of salvation. Humanity made perfect through pain.
He uttered a triumphant cry. “It is accomplished.”
And it was as though he had said, “everything had begun.”

Upcoming Performances

April, 2020: CANCELLED! Janet and Jordan Jacobson will premiere a new violin and trombone concerto called And Violet Makes Three with the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra at The Hartt School.

October 10th, 2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Vršac, Serbia.

October 9th, 2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Sombor, Serbia.

October 8th, 2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Niš, Serbia.

October 7th, 2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Pirot, Belgium.

October 6th, 2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Smederevo, Serbia.

October 4th,2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Belgrade, Serbia.

September 2019: Prometheus Duo will perform Icarus in Redding, CT and Bloomfield, CT.

August 24th, 2019: Boombox Serenade will be performed by Dan D'Addio at Hartford Artspace Gallery.

Spring 2019: Attention Deficit...Squirrel will be premiered by Woody Witt and Pamela York in Texas.

May 14th, 2017: High Times for Low Brass will be premiered at the New Britian Museum of Modern Art.

April 29th, 2017: What we talk about when we talk in 140 characters will be performed by HICO at The CT Historical Society in Hartford, CT.

April 12th, 2017: What we talk about when we talk in 140 characters will be performed by HICO at Eastern Connecticut State University.

March 9th, 2017: Concerto for Trombone "Cowiche" will be premiered by Matthew Russo and the UCONN Symphony Orchestra at the UCONN campus in Storrs, CT.

February 2nd, 2017: Boombox Serenade will be performed by Dan D'Addio at CCSU in New Britain, CT.

October 1st, 2016: From Sabres to Satellites will be premiered by US Army MI Corps Band in New Mexico.

April 30th, 2016: Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops? will be premiered by Glen Adsit and the Hartt Wind Ensemble.

October 10th, 2015: but in this dark night I am stationary and time is a river will be premiered by Elisabeth Halliday and The Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra.

June 6th, 2015: Souvenirs/Miniatures will be premiered at June in Buffalo.

May 14th, 2015: David Tayloe and Marko Stuparevic will premier A Page Out of Zen in West Hartford, CT as part of ACF's "Composers Night Out".