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“Song of the Holy Ground” for piano and string quartet was written in reaction to an Apache chant recorded in 1953 by musicologist John Donald Robb. The original recording, sung by a young girl, is clear, delicate and charming at first hearing. The text itself is unknown to me, beyond the fact that this is a song of consecration, a blessing. But the music of the chant is enchanting, with its uniquely expressive melodic shapes and its asymmetrical rhythms.

In approaching this material I first made a detailed transcription of the chant and became fascinated with the intricacy of the motivic and rhythmic repetition which creates a simple, but unified musical format – basically A1A2A3A4/B1B2B3B4.

My composition is a fantasy, an abstracted music that at times 1) spins out a music which freely develops small pitch or rhythmic motives taken from the original chant and at times 2) directly “sets” a statement of the chant – as with the solo violin statement at the very closing of the work. My quintet is not to be taken in any way as a decorated version of the original chant, nor is it in any sense an attempt to improve upon it. First of all “Song of the Holy Ground” is an act of artistic homage.


This piece won the Robb Musical Trust 2009 Composer’s Competition. The challenge was to compose a chamber work utilizing given ethnomusical materials.

Score of Song of the Holy Ground can be found here:

The Apache chant transcription can be found here:

Audio of the chant can be found here:,4175