The Peace of Wild Things


SATB with divisi & piano

Note: This is a digital score (PDF).

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The Story

Winner of the 2014 Nathan Davis Prize in Composition.

The words of poet, activist, community-builder, and farmer, Wendell Berry, serve as the inspiration for “The Peace of Wild Things.” Berry’s appreciation for the larger circle of existence is evident in this text that explores humanity’s relationship with the earth. When we are so caught up in our human-centered existence, Berry reminds us how the wild things around us “do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” My attempt to illuminate Berry’s words begins with swells of anxious, clustered harmony that give way to the basses, the lowest and darkest voices of the choir, who chant the opening lines, “When despair for the world grows in me…” Throughout the work, the musical gestures and harmonies rise and lighten until the highest voice, the sopranos, close the piece on the word “free.” The piano provides an earthly palette throughout, underscoring the scene at the edge of a mountain lake.

SATB choir & piano




Young New Yorkers' Chorus. Michael Kerschner, conductor.



When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Text copyright © 2012 by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems.
Used with permission of Counterpoint Press.

4 reviews for The Peace of Wild Things

  1. Giulio Garner

    A great adaptation of Berry’s words. The piece transported me to the woods where life finally made sense for a minute. Wonderful.

  2. Stephen Maples

    Singing this piece was an absolute pleasure. Each singing of the piece revealed something new, whether in text, tone, or musicality. There are such great emotional crescendos, and quiet moments, that one can’t help but fall in love with this piece. Well done, Jake!

  3. Bri Craw

    This piece has a million lives. Each time it’s sung or heard I learn something new about its story. The text and music are a perfect marriage of personal and universal, evoking the journey of sorrow to hope to joy. It was a pleasure to sing its premiere, and I can’t wait to hear where it (and Jake) go next!

  4. Debbie Shoemaker

    This was an absolutely beautiful piece of music. My daughter is a member of the choir. The choir did an outstanding job!

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