Tides of Peace

SATB (divisi) a cappella

Recording Credit: Performed live by Dolce Canto, conducted by Peter Park

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Music, I yield to thee;
As swimmer to the sea
I give my Spirit to the flood of song:
Bear me upon thy breast
In rapture and at rest,
Bathe me in pure delight and make me strong;
From strife and struggle bring release,
And draw the waves of passion into tides of peace.

Remember’d songs, most dear,
In living songs I hear,
While blending voices gently swing and sway
In melodies of love,
Whose mighty currents move,
With singing near and singing far away;
Sweet in the glow of morning light,
And sweeter still across the starlit gulf of night.

Music, in thee we float,
And lose the lonely note
Of self in thy celestial-ordered strain,
Until at last we find
The life to love resigned
In harmony of joy restored again;
And songs that cheered our mortal days
Break on the coast of light in endless hymns of praise.

from Music (1901–1903) by Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933)


Tides of Peace was commissioned by Bainbridge Chorale on Bainbridge Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. The work is “dedicated to community choirs around the world that share Bainbridge Chorale’s mission to enrich and inspire singers, audiences, and communities through the transcendent power of choral music.” During the beginning of the project, I met several times with Bainbridge Chorale’s Music Director, Michael Miller, to discuss the goals the he and the Chorale had in mind for the commission. This phase of commissioning projects is truly one of my favorites. It is the point at which the infinite possibilities of an otherwise blank canvas are creatively constrained to provide a framework and focus for what eventually emerges as a musical work. During our meetings, Michael had some very clear descriptors and themes that he wanted the piece to evoke, including Community, Peace, Unity, Love of Singing, and the concept of “Songs from the Heart.” And of course there are the obvious themes that go along with the notion of being located on an island in Puget Sound: water, waves, tides, currents, floating, the sea, and the shore. With Bainbridge Chorale’s mission statement, Michael’s themes, and the physical image of Bainbridge Island itself set in the beauty of Puget Sound, I began one of my other favorite phases of composing: finding the “right” text.

After looking at dozens of possibilities, ranging from poems about music by poets such as Robert Herrick and Walter de la Mare to sacred texts including I Corinthians 13, The Beatitudes, and Psalm 133 (“How good and pleasant it is…to dwell together in unity”), I decided to try setting the opening lines from Psalm 133, which I thought captured beautifully the themes of unity, community, and peace expressed by Michael during our initial meetings. After working it and reworking it, I felt like I was spinning my wheels; the piece just wasn’t moving in the right direction, so I stopped composing and returned to my quest for a text. Not long into my renewed search, I stumbled onto an extended cycle of poems by the American poet Henry van Dyke (1852–1933) titled Music. When I read “Sea and Shore,” the tenth and final poem in the cycle, I knew I had found the right text! I was overcome with the beauty of the images in the poem, and the way in which it captured every aspect of what we were looking for in a text was remarkable, from the mission statement, to the various themes Michael had shared with me, to the images of Bainbridge Island itself!

Not wanting to bias the chorale’s conductor, I presented him with a variety of texts, including both the sacred sources and several of the secular poems about music. After he read van Dyke’s “Sea and Shore,” he too lent his strongest vote to that poem and felt that it was “the right one.” I was delighted that he felt the same way as I did about the remarkable appropriateness of the text for the commission. Before starting to compose the musical setting, I nearly always choose a title first, because the central image of the title will frequently guide the musical setting itself. I already knew that I did not want to use the original title of the poem—“Sea and Shore”—which is not a particularly poetic title and which I found both too prosaic and too “geographical.” After trying a dozen or so titles on for size, I finally settled on Tides of Peace—the final three words from the end of the first stanza of the poem. I was gratified that Michael agreed whole-heartedly when I shared it with him. After my customary in-depth analysis of the poem, I began sketching some initial musical ideas, and the piece took off like a shot out of a cannon, taking me only a couple of days to finish most of the musical setting. I find van Dyke’s poem deeply inspirational, and I hope that the musical setting captures the beauty, depth, and sweep of the poem, as well as the goals set forth by Bainbridge Chorale. Most of all, I hope this work is both uniquely suited to Bainbridge Chorale—one that they can truly call their own—and that it will also help to fulfill Bainbridge Chorale’s mission to enrich and inspire singers, audiences, and communities through the transcendent power of choral music.