Jonathan Santore, Composer
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When the White Dove

Listen to performances by the Plymouth State University Chamber Singers conducted by Dan Perkins, with piano or string quartet accompaniment:

  • Score: $3 (for reproduction rights; minimum purchase of 10 required; additional charge for hard copies); set of parts: $8
  • For SATB chorus and string quartet OR piano
  • Secular text: English translation of a text by Vietnamese poet Nguyen Quoc Thai)
  • 6:30
  • Difficulty rating (1-5): 4
  • View a PDF score excerpt with piano
  • View a PDF score excerpt with string quartet
  • Purchase, request full review copy or more information, etc.

When the White Dove was commissioned and premiered by the New Hampshire Friendship Chorus, Dan Perkins, Music Director.

The New Hampshire Friendship Chorus asked me to write a choral work for their upcoming tour of Asia, which included performances in Vietnam. After looking through a number of translated Vietnamese poems, I chose to set portions of “Hymns in the Night upon the Sea,” a powerful wartime text by Nguyen Quoc Thai. The work was very well received at its premieres in New Hampshire and Vietnam, where the poet himself read the poem in its original Vietnamese. The NHFC requested a work for chorus and piano, but I heard this piece initially for chorus and string quartet; I decided to write both versions.

Let’s begin stand up
hold hands and form a circle
in the night shadows on the coast of the eastern sea
from the smallest of you
with heads raised like the sun
tell each other about
shameful indignities
strange new marks of the whip
pouring torrentially over life
tell each other about
loved ones who have died
orchards where leaves have fallen
fields that are black and dry
rivers canals lakes ponds
oil spreading to darken the surface of the water
ragged kindergartens of grass and hemp
scorched streets marked by hatred
from the smallest of you in turn raise your voices
hands footsteps
when the white dove
one morning returns to perch upon our hearts
and tremulously coos in the fragrant pink sunshine

Play speak laugh boisterously
graceful flock of seagulls
warbling upon the waves
radiant limbs of hope
soar up in a tidal mass
let your shadows cover the rivers and mountains with shade
light has returned light has returned
enveloping our bodies layer by layer
maintain your courage
hang yourselves upon the cross
so the world may grow into peace
so breathing may be calm and refreshing
keep shouting out upon the thorns
watch flowers blossom

gold red lavender pink
fill the hearts of mankind
light has returned
in the shade of your shadows
backs raw red sweaty
muddy feet dirty hands oozing blood
wind whistling through garments hair flowing
heads raised high
light summons a new rice season.

—from “Hymns in the Night Upon the Sea” by Nguyen Quoc Thai

The above poem was translated by Neil L. Jamieson in his book Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), Copyright © 1993 by the Regents of the University of California, and used by permission of the University of California Press.

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