Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight (2019)

SATB choir. 9 mins.

Live recording by Boston Choral Ensemble (Klo Garoute, Conductor):

Commissioned by Boston Choral Ensemble.

Any of the three movements may be programmed separately as standalone works for performance.

Perusal Score

View perusal score.

Performance score available for purchase. Please direct inquiries to Nell Shaw Cohen at

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Program NOte

Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight features settings of three poems on the theme of winter: “Winter Branches” by Margaret Widdemer, “A Winter Blue Jay” by Sara Teasdale, and “A Winter Ride” by Amy Lowell, all written in the early 20th century by American women. Each of these poets used vivid descriptions of winter phenomena to convey moments of profound connection to the natural world. I’ve grouped these poems together because I feel they form an aesthetically cohesive set, providing the basis for a musical narrative arc that moves from quiet contemplation (“Winter Branches”) to joyful exuberance (“A Winter Ride”).

My heartfelt thanks to Boston Choral Ensemble for providing me with the opportunity to write Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight through their 12th Annual Commission Competition. I dedicate this piece to my parents, Burt and Deborah Cohen, in gratitude for the childhood Chanticleer holiday concerts that kindled my love of vocal ensemble music.


“Winter Branches”
Margaret Widdemer

When winter-time grows weary, I lift my eyes on high
And see the black trees standing, stripped clear against the sky;

They stand there very silent, with the cold flushed sky behind,
The little twigs flare beautiful and restful and kind;

Clear-cut and certain they rise, with summer past,
For all that trees can ever learn they know now, at last;

Slim and black and wonderful, with all unrest gone by,
The stripped tree-boughs comfort me, drawn clear against the sky.

* * *

“A Winter Blue Jay”
Sara Teasdale

Crisply the bright snow whispered,
Crunching beneath our feet;
Behind us as we walked along the parkway,
Our shadows danced,
Fantastic shapes in vivid blue.
Across the lake the skaters
Flew to and fro,
With sharp turns weaving
A frail invisible net.
In ecstasy the earth
Drank the silver sunlight;
In ecstasy the skaters
Drank the wine of speed;
In ecstasy we laughed
Drinking the wine of love.
Had not the music of our joy
Sounded its highest note?
But no,
For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said,
“Oh look!”
There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple,
Fearless and gay as our love,
A bluejay cocked his crest!
Oh who can tell the range of joy
Or set the bounds of beauty?

* * *

“A Winter Ride”
Amy Lowell 

Who shall declare the joy of the running!
Who shall tell of the pleasures of flight!
Springing and spurning the tufts of wild heather,
Sweeping, wide-winged, through the blue dome of light.
Everything mortal has moments immortal,
Swift and God-gifted, immeasurably bright.

So with the stretch of the white road before me,
Shining snowcrystals rainbowed by the sun,
Fields that are white, stained with long, cool, blue shadows,
Strong with the strength of my horse as we run.
Joy in the touch of the wind and the sunlight!
Joy! With the vigorous earth I am one.

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Performance History
  • Boston Choral Ensemble, Andrew Shenton, Artistic Director; premiered at Old South Church, Boston, MA, 12/14/19.
  • Boston Choral Ensemble, Klo Garoute, Interim Artistic Director; Old South Church, Boston, MA, 12/11/21.
  • Bowdoin College Chamber Choir, selection “Winter Branches,” Jeff Christmas, Conductor; 5/6/23.