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Cloudburst

After a performance of Go, Lovely Rose in 1991, Dr. Jocelyn K. Jensen approached me about writing a piece for her High School Choir. She is an amazing conductor, legendary for doing crazy things on stage (choralography, lighting, costumes, you name it), and I wanted to write something for her that would really knock the audience out. I had recently been given an exquisite book of poems by Octavio Paz, and around the same time I witnessed an actual (breathtaking) desert cloudburst, and I guess it just all lined up. The finger snapping thing (all of the singers snap their fingers to simulate rain) is an old campfire game that I modified for the work, and the thunder sheets were giant pieces of tin we took from the side of the school.

The piece was originally about ten minutes long, but Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe sagely convinced me to “tighten it up”. I did, and the piece (now a lean eight and a half minutes) was finally published in 1995.

Cloudburst

The rain…
Eyes of shadow-water
eyes of well-water,
eyes of dream-water.

Blue suns, green whirlwinds,
birdbeaks of light pecking open
pomegranate stars.

But tell me, burnt earth, is there no water?
Only blood, only dust,
Only naked footsteps on the thorns?

The rain awakens…

We must sleep with open eyes,
we must dream with our hands,
we must dream the dreams of a river seeking its course,
of the sun dreaming its worlds,
we must dream aloud,
we must sing till the song puts forth roots,
trunk, branches, birds, stars,
we must find the lost word,
and remember what the blood,
the tides, the earth, and the body say,
and return to the point of departure…

Octavio Paz, 1914-1998
(Adapted by Eric Whitacre, Translation by Lysander Kemp)

Available from all good retailers including MusicroomHal Leonard and J.W. Pepper.

  • http://www.youtube.com/xoclkox Courtney Lea K

    First piece I ever heard from you when I was a freshmen in High School and I am not gonna lie, I actually didn't like it…at first. Because back then (when I was musically challenged lol), I didn't think that music like this could be done, and I didn't know that dissonance like this existed. So when I first heard this I actually said, "…Ick!" but then (thankfully) it grew on me and it actually became one of my favorite pieces.

  • Tanner Dean

    a friend of mine showed me this song for the first time on my way to my first All-state tryout in Arkansas. May i say it brought me to tears the first time i heard it and immediatly told my friend to put it on repeat, and it's all i listened to on the bus to tryouts. I didnt even listen to my tryout music (which happened to be "Leonardo dreams..", haha) and made all state under the sheer influence of this piece. And for that i thank you, because it was THAT all state clinic a month later that convinced me to be a music education major.

    • Andrew Clayton Crawl

      Ahhh! I'm an Arkansas All-State member!

      • Tanner Dean

        yeeeahhhh! haha

  • Tom K

    I sang this piece in 1997 in the Wisconsin HS honors choir concert under the direction of Andre Thomas. I can honestly I say I had never heard any song like this, and to this day have never heard another song quite like this. It changed me, musically. No other song is so chock-full of absolutely breath-taking moments of pure delight. Thank you so much, Mr. Whitacre, for introducing this piece to the world.

  • Denise

    This was the first piece I ever sang of yours Eric, my freshman year at UNLV. And it was directed by that lovely lady mentioned above…Dr. J She really is one of a kind and such an inspiration to all the students that pass through her doors.

  • Christina

    I was in Dr J's high school choir that year. I remember you visiting and fine tuning the peice. It was a very moving experience in my life, and we literally brought other choirs and audiences at our performances to tears.

  • Carolyn Daley

    Hi Eric, If my memory serves me well, Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe taught us your beautiful "Cloudburst" piece when I was in college, around 1993. I think our Choir (at Northern Arizona University) was the first to perform it. I remember him calling you on the phone in our rehearsal room so that we could sing it for you. We took it on tour to the East Cost that summer. It's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard or sung…and I had never had the opportunity until then to work with living composer, close to my age even! Thank you for your creations. You are truly blessed.

  • John Slater

    I was introduced to Eric Whitacre's sublime music as a result of our daughter's singing several pieces in the Northamptonshire County Youth Choir (England). Whenever we watched/listened to performances, the hairs were raised on the back of my neck and I got a lump in my throat. The music really gets straight through to the soul. My wife and daughter have tickets for the performance on 2 August in London and are really looking forward to it. Keep up the good wark Eric!

  • Martin Perez

    The first time (as well as the second, third, and so on) I heard "Cloudburst", I felt one in my own emotions… I can't explain, I just can say every time I listen to it, I enjoy it… I really look forward to conducting it soon… Thanks Eric for sharing yourself, for letting you be…

  • Ashley Stanton

    You know, the first time I ever heard one of your pieces was this year. I am a senior in high school. Never before had I heard of you or your literature. Then, my teacher comes into class about two months ago, very excited about something. Turns out, he discovered your virtual choir. I went home that night, and searched for the other videos of virtual choir, not discovering as many as I'd hoped. Then, I Google searched you, looking for more. The dissonance and rule-bending used is pure GENIUS. Every time I listen to a new piece, I get chills and want to perform it myself. I want to make that music happen. So, I decided to audition for the virtual choir and, should I become a music director in the future, perform your repertoire with MY choirs.

  • Joseph Spence

    I am always amazed how you can create the amazingly vivid pictures and emotions that are related with the title and theme of the piece. Cloudburst is a prime example of this. I can actually see the cloud and hear the rain and smell the odor of wet pavement, everytime I hear it. You are on my list of inspiring composers and who I want my music to sound like.

  • Liz Bathory

    This piece, remember, was written when Eric was only 22 years old and had been composing for less than two years. I am more impressed by this than I am by the early compositons of young W.A. Mozart.

  • Regulo Castro

    All I can do after hearing and seeing this is but thanks God or whatever you decide to call her, who have made us,composers and listeners,travel through XX century music from the number crunching anguish of serial music to the beauty american composers like you bringed back to our souls through our ears.Music magic that hums of ancient masters like Gesualdo,and newer ones like you Mr Whitacre.The awesome power of enjoying hearing singing and playing music where virtuosism is not in our hands voices or thoughts, but in our emotions.Simple music yes,that´s what they use to say to put us down,I say yes,just as simple as love.

    Excuse my english I speak spanish.

  • Dominique X.

    exquisite….i never not get goosebumps with Eric's music- i never have to do any imagining, his pieces swarm you with thoughts and deliver emotions as if you have always lived in such a beautiful world as music… :)

  • Jaznjaimee

    OMGosh!, this was incredible. Loved your use of the snapping of fingers to imitate the sound of raindrops. Beautiful!! Love your work. Keeping them coming :-)!

  • Brian Matthew

    Im a music education major currently at Northern oklahoma college and there are some days i doubt wanting to be a music teacher but beautiful music like this does nothing but inspires me to work harder and harder to make my dream come true. I can't thank you enough for the inspiration your compositions give me.

  • IJF

    This piece made me shake in some parts. So amazing what your music can do to someone. The first chords almost made me hit the floor. Amazing!!!!!

  • David Vigar

    First played the wind band version in a scratch band – loved it and then persuaded my regular band to play it in church on Kew Green (Richmond, London). What a fantastic piece. Can’t wait for Whitacre prom for choral version (Aug 29 2012 – RAH)

  • Brian Baumgarn

    I just did my meditation and listening this a.m. and chose Eric directing the mass choir in Minnesota from about 3 years ago. It is a magical tour for about 8 minutes. It is heavenly and earthy at the same time. Kudos to any of you who have either had the joy of singing or playing this divine muslc.