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The Story

Waves (2015) marked the beginning of two collaborations for Jake Runestad. He and Dr. Rob Istad, the conductor of the California State University, Fullerton University Singers, were both raised in Rockford, Illinois. After becoming acquainted through their shared hometown, Istad commissioned a choral work for his ensemble, and Runestad took the opportunity to work with his friend and poet Todd Boss. The two artists spent time discussing what makes a text suitable for choral singing—for example, paying attention to open vowels and avoiding too many consonants, and planning where certain words fall in a line to maximize expressive impact and minimize awkwardness—and Boss responded by writing the poem Waves.

Runestad then shared Boss’s work with the CSU Fullerton University Singers, whose personal responses to the text informed the music he wrote. Because Fullerton is just a short drive from the Pacific Ocean, the composer took up the theme of the sea in both text and music. The work is for double choir, and is built on washes of sound. As a repeating motive in the piano establishes a stable foundation (perhaps the ocean itself), one choir enters, grows in volume, and then fades, the second choir entering at the first choir’s highest point so that they overlap like waves. The music, like Boss’s reflective, mercurial text, maintains a dark undercurrent throughout, but is infused with moments of lightness that come to the fore in the final ecstatic stanza.

Program note by Leah G. Weinberg, PhD. Please credit this author with any reproductions of this note.

SSAATTBB, tenor solo, & piano


California State University - Fullerton. Dr. Robert Istad, conductor.

March 11, 2016 in Fullerton, CA.


by Todd Boss

O my soul, where do you go sometimes?
Why have I come brooding for you
here where the ocean writes its tidelines
on the endless sand?

Waves come, waves go.
Waves know nothing but tossing and
crossing, crashing and thrashing.

My sadness is enormous as the sea.
Birds are made of bones of air but I
am water, drawn by my nature to drown.

Light—o, magnanimous light! Find me!
Blind me with sight! Sweep free
and steep me in the serenity that saves—
sunlight washing over me in waves—!

1 review for Waves

  1. Leslie Scoopmire

    One can almost see the waves crashing both on Lake Michigan and on the Pacific Coast, and think of the longing of the soul to be known and loved

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