A Timbered Choir

for SATB

Text by Wendell Berry

The concert's emotional high point was Flaherty's "A Timbered Choir," with words by Wendell Berry. Four excerpts took us from harmonious minimalism, through an intense vision of our destruction of the landscape, to a feeling of anguished triumph. [Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble; Deborah Jenkins Teske, cond.]
–– Mark Arnest, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)

premiered April 26, 2001

Pomona College Glee Club
Donna M. Di Grazia, conductor

Claremont United Church of Christ
Claremont, California

Diane Beck
Valerie Dawley
Elsbeth Escher
Kristy Hyomi Kim
Sadia Rebecca Rahman
Jocelyn Robson
Joanne K. Takagi

Kristin Connor
Emily de Ayora
Alison Ellsworth
Katie Golus
Nicki Taylor
Sarah Drewniak
Rebecca Howard

Alan Bush
Andrew Miller
Timothy H. Sachs
Ari Sommer
Matthew Zay

Drew Foerster
Nathaniel B. Johnson
Nathan Rostron
Amar Shah
Adam Teicholz
Mark Wolfmeyer


Wendell Berry is well known as a poet, essayist, and environmentalist. His writings speak with directness and disarming simplicity, of nature, of humanity, and of the complex interactions between all parties. With seriousness of purpose, his poetry exudes patience, warmth, and quiet humor. In all his writings he values community above individual whims, with an unsentimental but unwavering sense of responsibility paramount.

He has lived the kind of environmentally responsible life that he advocates. Although he taught English for many years at the University of Kentucky, he has lived and worked for most of his life on the family farm in Henry County, Kentucky, where he raises crops and livestock.
He refuses to own a computer or television. He writes in pencil, and his wife types up his final copies on a manual typewriter.

A Timbered Choir is a collection of poems written on Sunday morning walks from 1979 to 1997. This setting is of several of these poems from the 1997 set.

"Best of any Song " refers to the song of birds, and how to hear them. The four voices in this setting chirp the same short tune at various levels and recede into silence. "Even While I Dreamed" decries the loss of natural and human community for the sake of the short-sighted "objective." "I was Wakened from my Dream" follows, as the real rain washes away the nightmare of alienation. "There is a Day" quietly prefers being to going. The short text is set with very little music, which spins around itself canonically, ultimately neither coming nor going, but rather enjoying the spin.

This setting of A Timbered Choir was commissioned by and is dieicated to Donna Di Grazia and the Pomona Colege Glee Club.


Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.


Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear
and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bulldozed, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there
I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the
planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and
gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked
like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now
pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in
pursuit of the objective.

The once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder

and to enter the best-paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all
which was th~ destruction of all obstacles, which was the
destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the
way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who
ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the
ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated,
the homeless
with their many eyes opened only toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.


I was wakened from my dream of a ruined world by the
of rain falling slowly onto the dry earth of my place in time.
On the parched garden, the cracked-open pastures,
the dusty grape leaves, the brittled grass, the drooping
foliage of the woods,
fell still the quiet rain.


There is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.


I. Best of Any Song-score excerpt

II. Even While I Dreamed-score excerpt

II. I was Awakened From My Dream-score excerpt

IV. There is a Day-score excerpt



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