Skip to Content

Water Night

Water Night was just one of those pieces.

In January of 1995 I spent the day with Dr. Bruce Mayhall, and in one amazing four hour conversation he basically convinced me to stay in school, finish my degree, and continue my life as a professional artist. Heavy stuff. I wanted so much to show my appreciation to him, to write him a piece worthy of his wisdom and understanding. I got home, opened up my book of Octavio Paz poetry, and started reading.

I can’t really describe what happened. The music sounded in the air as I read the poem, as if it were a part of the poetry. I just started taking dictation as fast as I could, and the thing was basically finished in about 45 minutes. I have never experienced anything like it, before or since, and with my limited vocabulary I can only describe it as a pure and perfect and simple gift. It has become one of my most popular pieces, and I’ve heard countless people who sing it or hear it describing the same feeling I had when I wrote it down. I remain eternally grateful for this gift.

Water Night is dedicated in deepest friendship to my friend and mentor Dr. Bruce Mayhall.

Water Night

Night with the eyes of a horse that trembles in the night,
night with eyes of water in the field asleep
is in your eyes, a horse that trembles,
is in your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water,
eyes of well-water,
eyes of dream-water.

Silence and solitude,
two little animals moon-led,
drink in your eyes,
drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes,
night opens, doors of musk,
the secret kingdom of the water opens
flowing from the center of night.

And if you close your eyes,
a river, a silent and beautiful current,
fills you from within,
flows forward, darkens you,
night brings its wetness to beaches
in your soul.

Octavio Paz, 1914-1998
(Adapted by Eric Whitacre, Translation by Muriel Rukeyser)

Available from all good retailers including Musicroom, Hal Leonard and J.W. Pepper.

  • zach cole

    this is a very elegant and all around beautiful piece, i have never heard something close to this… there is no comparison it's just simply amazing

  • Lu

    It takes my breath away…like that peaceful and heavenly moment after finding THE thing that makes everything just perfect…

  • Rachel Blair

    This song blows me away every time I listen to it. It's emotionally exhausting to me. I don't know why. Everything about this song is beautifully haunting and absolutely stunning to me. =)

    • zach cole

      i agree… Octavio Paz's poem was good… but this choral compliments the poetry so well… as if the poetry is alive…

      • Rachel Blair

        oh yeah, definately. and the text painting on the word "soul"… it seriously kills me inside everytime I hear it. It's incredible. I hear it and I feel… almost vulnerable. haha. I love it.

        • Dan

          yes – especially the Alto against the Bass in the last passage (‘soul’). Something that destroys you about it. My choir got this last bit so right that my choir master had to turn away it was so painful.

    • Dan

      I agree Rachel – well put.

  • Andrew Wood

    I love both the choral and the string versions, i love the big jock-off chord in the string versions because it sounds like all the notes are trying to run away from each other shouting 'we shouldn'tfit together' but at the same time realising that they do.

    Everything has to stop when that note plays belive me. They should play this song over afganistan, korea and iraq, then we may just get some world peace out of them.

    and might i say… finally, a good looking classical composer.

  • Ben

    I think the fact that this piece sounds so simple and flowing, that it makes it simple and flowing to feel the emotion from it. thats one of the the best reasons I like this art so much!

  • Erika

    haha I totally just scrounged around and dug up my old sheet music so I could sing along!! <3 my absolute favorite! I think this should be the next EWVC piece, hands down!

  • Emmalee

    I absolutely love this piece… gives me chills every time I listen to it. I agree with Erika; this would make an awesome (if difficult) virtual choir piece. Maybe I can convince my choral director to let us sing this one…

  • Kyle Stocker

    Surreal and haunting. Has been my favorite for a long time. I can literally hear the water…somewhere, somewhen, in dream-water.

  • Dan Sainsbury

    Amazing. it almost sounds like a painting it is so fluid.

    The last few chords are a delight and bring a tear and a shiver every time: the bass against the soaring alto, well there is nothing like it, and I am choking back as I hear it now!! x

  • Anika Goslen

    This song always reminds me of those times when you're trying with everything in you to keep from crying. The text about water in the eyes and then the flowing deepness of the music always brings me back to that thought. I also love the dynamic and melodic contrast on the words "open" and "close". The whole piece is just beautiful.

  • Kevin

    I wonder if there is a psychological reason why non-musicians (and some musicians) become cold and consider a piece not worth as much when it is received as a gift 'from the other side' all in one short period of time. I have a handful of guitar pieces that arrived in a second (or less) and have friends who dismiss them (and would criticize this piece) not on sound, but on the fact that it didn't take very long to write. I, like perhaps you Eric, don't consider myself to be the author of them but just the first willing, attentive, recipient.

  • Chloe

    When I heard this song, I cried. I guess it was because there was so much truth in the words I was reading and the music I was hearing and the voices singing it that my body couldn't hold it in. Thank you for caring so much about the words to protect them with music, and to add to it your own truth.

    • AngryPineapple

      Well then you can probably tell me what the first line is supposed to mean……?

      Would be great :)

      • Taylor

        The first line is comparing the darkness of night to the darkness in a horse's eyes. Basically the entire song is personification and a metaphor comparing night to a horse.

  • Eric D.

    This piece is one of the best ive heard in my life i first heard it and we tried to sing it in my sophmore year of HS we really did pretty well (for sophmores at least) but more importantly this piece will stay in my heart forever. thanks Mr. vancamp and Mr. Whitacre

  • kate

    We're doing this in our choir soon, am so excited. I wonder if I'm the only one who gets chills whilst singing it?

  • Sam Hancock

    I first acquired an album of Eric Whitacre's music back in 2004 after singing his piece With a Lilly in Your Hand. I really only wanted a recording of that single song, but I got "stuck with" his whole album. I listened to Water Night at least twenty times and found little meaning to the music or the words. So I decided to look up the lyrics. It was strange; I didn't really understand the meaning that Octavio Paz was trying to communicate. And yet as I read, the poem had such a deep and personal meaning to me. That night I listened to my recording of Water Night. The song touched me, quite possibly more than any other song I'd ever heard. As I listened, I wept. The song has remained a personal favorite.

  • Kelly Jones

    I've sung this song as part of a choir and have also listened to it dozens and dozens of times outside of that, and I still can't help but cry at the 2:40 mark – the "If you open your eyes" line. My word, a more beautiful musical phrase has never been written. I'm listening to the orchestral version right now, having never heard it before, and it's still just as powerful…how does that happen? Amazing, Mr. Whitacre, simply amazing.

  • Michelle Taylor

    I first was introduced to your music with this song in my freshman year of college at Southeast Missouri State University. I was a band kid, but loved choir. I joined choir late in my high school career, my senior year. I knew then, my senior year, that I'd teach music. Never though I'd be a high school choir teacher…but it's the best thing in my life right now!

    Once I auditoned and made choir, the songs were passed out the next day. Water Night was one. I thumbed through it, and looked at all the stacked notes and extremely close intervals. I'm a pianist by trade…I laughed. I said "yea freakin right…this dude is nuts…what the hell was he thinking stacking these notes on top of each other…for vocalists? We shall see…" and that's when I was introduced to some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard in my life. It was something out of a movie. Never in my wildest dreams had I heard such perfection.

    After that came Sleep next semester, then Lux Aurumque my junior year in college.

    My concert choir received a 1 rating at state last year singing Lux. They fell in love when I let them listen.

    I want so badly to try out for the 2011 season. I can't afford it!

    I do want to say that I LOVE your music, and on my plan periods I open your site and listen to the music. It keeps me sane!!!!! :-)

    Whitacre FOR LIFE!!!!!!

  • Samantha Farabee

    My first experience with Mr. Whitacre was in sophomore year of high school with this song. As a soprano 1 and never hearing his music, all I cared about was hitting high notes- loudly. I will never forget the first time the choir came together and sang "If you open your eyes…" The air was shimmering with the beauty of the vocals and the music on the page. Everyone was reduced to tears, including my friends who originally thought choir was stupid.

    Since then, I have only performed "Sleep" and "Animal Crackers Vol. 1" I am still trying to get my director for college to perform at least SOMETHING directly from this gorgeous man's mind. Eric Whitacre has affected me more than any other person.

    Thank you.

  • Keagan Ward

    I performed this piece with my chamber choir last year, spring 2010, and it was amazing. This piece is an angelical masterpiece. Thank you Eric Whitacre for composing it. We practiced it so much, and it still send chills down my spine when i hear it. Thank You so much, you define outstanding choral music for me.

  • Drew

    I discovered your music when my choir teacher played a bit of When David Heard a while back – all of us instantly fell in love and have grown to love your work. We really want to do one of your songs for Spring concert, but our teacher isn't sure we could handle it. I sincerely hope I get to sing at least a couple of your pieces in the future, especially Sleep, When David Heard, The Seal Lullaby, What If, Lux Aurumque, and, most of all, WATER NIGHT. I love this song more than any of the others!

    I would be THRILLED if we could do this song for virtual choir next year – I loved being a part of Sleep this year. Regardless, I was thrilled to sing Sleep and look forward to whatever song you pick next year.

  • Dan Powers

    My first exposure to your music was last year when my daughter had Lux Aurumque as a tryout piece for PMEA District 7 Chorus. I needed to hear more! As a singer, I've been touched my many a piece of music over the years, but never have I been moved so deeply, and differently by the music of Eric Whitacre. Back in November, we had to put our family pet to sleep. At the moment of her death, all I could hear, playing over and over was Sleep. It was, and remains very comforting.

    And so, Water Night like Sleep, will continue to touch us, and we look forward with anticipation for the music that is to come.

    • Samantha Farabee

      I was in PMEA District 5, where is District 7 located?

      • Dan Powers

        Hi Samantha–District 7 is located in South Central PA.

        Dan

  • Andrew Clayton Crawl

    This song is probably the most touching I've heard of your works. It's just so beautiful and true. I so wish that ArkCDA would do this piece for my senior year of All-State next year.(Or, at least one of your pieces.) We did "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine" last year. (My sophomore year.) And, of course, chills came all over. You're an inspiration to me, sincerely. I long await the day that I can compose and conduct my own choral pieces. Thank you for your work.

  • Benny Cullen

    This piece really is like nothing elese in the world… it just makes my day when I hear it. Along with 'When David Heard', this piece just melts my stress away. I'm hoping for a concert in Atlanta featuring your work sometime soon!

  • Taylor

    This is my high school choir singing Water Night at OMEA.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtDsINULg7c
    We're so passionate about this song, and we all love singing it.

  • Jesus Cudemus

    Of course I love Sleep and Lux Aurumque and When David Heard, and so many others… but THIS piece (and Nox Aurumque) have a special place in my heart.

    I'm one of those people who rarely cries, but I've been moved to tears before by the music of Mozart… and more recently Mr. Whitacre's.

    Talk about feelings and emotion… I don't know why, but as I'm listening now to this music for the umpteenth time, I'm once again choking up trying to hold back the tears, and failing miserably.

    PLEASE Mr. Whitacre, come perform in Washington, D.C. We need you!!!!!

  • Jesus Cudemus

    Sorry to bother you Mr. W, it's me again,

    I've listened to this song over and over, and I meant to ask a question that eluded me before about the lyrics:

    The passage: "If you open your eyes, night opens, doors of musk…"

    In the original spanish text — "Si abres los ojos, se abre la noche de puertas de musgo…" — they are 'doors of moss', rather than musk.

    Now, I would not change a thing and I am not a musician (music lover, yes). And this is a small thing, but to my uneducated ear it seems that "moss" would have fit or sounded just as well; so I'm just wondering about the choice of the word "musk", which gives a slightly different meaning to the text.

    In any case, I realize you have a well-earned artistic and creative license to make such subtle changes in order to take the music to new heights, and I can only imagine that Octavio Paz would have been so pleased by your interpretation.

    On that note (pun intended), I also want to thank you for introducing me and the world to the works of Octavio Paz and so many other poets, in such a wonderful way.

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Jesus, actually, that is the translation by Muriel Rukeyeser that Octavio Paz expressly approved. I wasn't allowed to change a word of the "official" translation. THANK YOU for your kind words.

      • Jesus Cudemus

        Ahhh, I see. Thank you, sir.

        I should have figured that it was exactly as it had to be, of course. (No need to repeat your experience with Sleep and the R. Frost estate debacle – as amazing as that turned out and all.)

        May I also say how impressed I am at your responsiveness (wow) and your palpable love for your fans and pupils. It shows — and for that they love you back even more, I'm sure.

        Sadly, I only heard of you on NPR just a couple of months ago, when Virtual Choir 2.0 came out. But I've been hooked on your music and spreading the joy of your gift ever since. Count me in as a WhitacrEvangelist :D

        Thanks again for helping a sometimes cynical grown man get in touch with his feelings… Hearing your music (and the many interpretations in YouTube, etc.) has been life-changing for me. Talk about a soaring leap!

        Best wishes for your Japan visit my man, and break a leg at Walt Disney Hall in June!!!!

  • http://simply-one-of-a-kind.blogspot.com/ Chrissie

    My choir the Portsmouth Choral Union, UK, will be performing this piece amongst others, this coming weekend, under the baton of our conductor Jonathan Willcocks.

    We love the piece and and hope to do it true justice… it is so haunting… just love it!

    Chrissie

  • Povilas

    Labai gražu. Gera muzika, puiki aranžuotė.

  • Jesse

    Being thankful enough to have it myself (dear Jesus, it makes this sound indescribable), I can’t help but ask- like so many other famous composers, does Eric Whitacre have perfect pitch? The way he described writing this piece really seems to indicate that he may.

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      I don’t have it Jesse… just decent relative pitch.

  • Ngcebo Maseko

    I am a young 14 yr old and i have a passion for music but this piece touches me everytime i hear it. It is truly the most beautiful piece i have ever heard. There is no comparison. I love all the pieces ive heard. Sadly its that my choir is TTBB and we can perform this song… but the most beautiful and relaxing song EVER

  • Christian

    Beautiful piece. I am simply astounded at the tone of the parts with 14 part harmony. My choir director would freak at this sheet music.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JgT0SL3WoM Kate Kubat

    I LOVED singing this song! A few years ago… but it’ SO great.

  • ageng

    this is amazing masterpiece…
    can i get the score??

  • Amy

    Out of my very limited exposure to Eric Whitacre’s music, this is hands-down my favorite. Not even “Lux Aurumque” and “Sleep”, which I’ve both had the honor to perform as part of my school’s Chamber Choir, can compare with this, even though they are both absolutely brilliant pieces as well. Amazing stuff, I swear this is the melody that my soul sings, no cliches intended.

  • Donald Crosby

    Eric….. You once said that writing for Orchestra was what you most wanted to do Or really thought you enjoyed the most, something to that effect. Oh how I hope you will write more often for String Orchestra or at least have EVERYTHING transcribed and in print for Orchestra. I just had the pleasure of conducting October for the third time. Pual Lavender did a wonderful job with that arrangment. It is soooooo Beautiful everytime I get the chance to do it. Very moving. Your work is a blessing to many. Please let us have the music from Water Night and the River Cam soon. Just a regular ole teacher in an urban school system that has been touched by your gift.

    • http://ericwhitacre.com Eric

      THANK YOU, Don!

  • Sarah

    I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS SONG. I heard it about it a year ago and when I listen to it today, i feel like i’m listening to it for the first time. This song is breathtaking and can’t get over how beautiful it is. You should tour around the U.S and come to high schools, it will be amazing! Love your work!!

  • Sarah Nicholes

    Out of all my favorite pieces by Eric Whitacre, this has to be my favorite. What I love about is that it’s not only rich and beautiful, but because the music is somewhat dark, and the only other dark piece I’ve heard by Whitacre is Nox Aurumque. I love this so much. Thank you so much for making wonderful music. My high school choir is doing this soon!!! :)

  • Terry K.

    I am assistant concertmaster in my high school orchestra, and we got the string arrangement a little while ago, and it completely blew me away. Looking at the score, from a theorists perspective, it’s complexities are impressive, but actually listening to it, I am just in awe. I would love our orchestra to be able to really do this song justice. It is such an incredible piece, and as so many people have said, the world just seems to pause while this piece plays. I just can not passively listen to it. Although, based purely on notes, it is certainly not the most difficult thing I have played, but it is probably my favorite. Thank you so much, for composing such an impressive work.

    • http://ericwhitacre.com Eric

      THANK YOU, Terry!

  • C

    I it just me, or is the line “And if you close your eyes” quoted verbatim in “Close Your Eyes” from Paradise Lost? Is that intentional? Or is that just what those words necessarily sound like?

    • http://ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Absolutely intentional, C.

  • Keith Philips

    For most of this year’s Christmas day, I have been at my mother’s bedside at the local hospital. She has been having trouble lately, and I have been totally stressed and broken. But, while listening to this song and many others on Eric’s Light and Gold Album, I have felt an overwhelming calming and peace flow through me, just as the “river fills from within”. Thank you Eric, for sharing your gift with the world. You have touched many people’s lives through music, including mine. Although I am just a 17 year old boy, music runs through my veins. You are a vision, a role model, and a very talented man. Looking forward to many more beautiful poems and choral music from you, Eric!

  • http://www.facebook.com/pmbobier Pierre Michael Bobier

    I just want to ask, what is the tempo of this song? Because I had it converted into MIDI file and be practicing using my phone/audio player.

  • Amy Clark

    In December of 1991, in a concert commemorating the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death, I was privileged enough to be part of the symphonic choir at the University of Nevada, Reno. The choir director was much loved and esteemed by all of us, with his gentle correction and lilting drawl. It was, of course, Dr Bruce Mayhall. I would be delighted to sing this piece in his honor.

  • http://www.eboca.cl Ricardo Curihuinca

    Eric … .. perhaps a further comment will not be surprised much, but two years ago I discovered his music, which I deeply impacted me and identified me much time. Is great as their music creates a whole atmosphere, transports, especially with the vocals, I just love!
    You know, here in Chile and do his music.
    A fans, Ricardo Curihuinca
    Choral Director

  • Zeng Cha

    When I first personally experience Eric Whitacre’s music I was a sophmore year in high school [I'm a junior now so last year]. It was Lux Aurumque that had activated something in my mind that opened new doors for me. Having been in my high school choir since freshman year, I now listen to everything Eric Whitacre composes, and he never fails to empress me. Water Night, to me, is romantic and tranquil. This piece is my favorite piece up to date because of its texture and beauty. I Thank you Eric Whitacre for being such a great composer, and composing such beautiful pieces that I forever hold close to my heart!
    -Zeng Cha

  • Geoff Rizor

    Will there be sheet music for this available at any time?

    • Geoff Rizor

      The Orchestral string version.*

  • Madison Marshall

    Like others, this is simply emotionally exhausting for me. I have just recently found something extremely special in my life, and lucky for me, this song came into my life at the perfect time. And because of that, this song will forever represent that special thing for me. Thank you, Mr. Whitacre for this. I sang “The Seal Lullaby” in the Texas All-State Women’s Choir this past February. It was glorious, but I must say that this one tops it off.

  • Ryo Adachi

    Does the wind band version of this exist? I see that the Eastman Wind Orchestra has performed it last fall.

  • DrMagnus43

    In high school, my junior year, we performed this piece. My director told us that he was crazy for letting us do it because we were a small school with an un-auditioned choir of 63 (ish). The Men section was way smaller then the girls’ too. I was holding the baritone part on my own in the choir because the other basses couldn’t reach most of the notes. So I had to learn to be loud enough to hold my part, but not over sing. THAT challenge connected me to the song and to singing. I am a confident singer because of this piece. When we performed it at district music contest, we got a standing ovation. WE PULLED IT OFF! I couldn’t believe it. I cried every time we sang it after that. This piece made me realize exactly what being in choir meant to me. Lastly, and the most important reason, we sang this song at a class mates funeral. That was a gift we gave to her parents. Singing this at her funeral made it extremely personal.
    I just want to thank Eric Whitacre and everyone else who wrote this song. It means the world to me.

  • Ron Keezer

    Eric, We have an arrangement of your “Water Night” for Trombone Choir. We would like to publish it and would like your permission. We would be pleased to pay you the standard royalty on any sales. thank you, Ron Keezer, Really Good Music, LLC. http://www.reallygoodmusic.com

  • Laura Plummer

    Dear Mr. Whiteacre, One of my former high school students discovered this piece a couple years ago and shared it with me. This is such a gorgeous, moving piece for string orchestra and I would love to program it this year on a couple performances in February and March but do not have the resources to pay rental for multiple performances (free to the public). Is it available for purchase anywhere outside of the U.S. or is it just rental only? We performed October four years and fell in love with that piece as well.

    Thank you.

    Laura Plummer
    Orchestra Director
    Alton H.S.
    Alton, IL
    [email protected]

  • DesertDweller79

    Eric, this remains my absolute favorite piece of yours. When you came to Northern Arizona University to work with us on the Three Songs of Faith, I remember you talking about how you always had made a ton of revisions on your pieces. (While making tons of revisions to the Three Songs of Faith.) Which made sense to me. I couldn’t imagine NOT making revisions to a piece. But, then you added, “Except ‘Water Night’”.

    I was stunned to realize you wrote this all at once and never changed a note. Astounding that something this perfect came to you fully formed. Your setting of this beautiful poem is sublime. The thing that always grabs me about this piece is the way it seems to breathe during the silences, It has an amazing internal rhythm like that which gives it a feeling of life.

    I’m very sad that I missed the Virtual Choir performance of this. I would have loved to have participated. This is probably my very favorite modern choral work.

    • russedav

      While in one sense this is a “modern” choral work, in the most important & deepest sense it is rather a timeless classic perfection from Almighty God with Eric & performers as His elect instruments defying limitation to a mere “modern” work, as most of modernity will be deservedly forgotten in short order while this continues on forever through countless centuries & ages, ever classic, ever new when ancient, ever ancient even when new, as in the eternal vision of Daniel 7:9 below, nothing less than the finger & fire of Almighty God with Eric as His elect instrument, not merely in Water Night but in all his other works I’ve heard from Sovereign God’s elect messenger as His royal court composer, perhaps the most fiery music written, especially the living choral versions with a life and breath of their own independent of mere human ability.
      Soli Deo gloria!
      Daniel 7:9 I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, Whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool: His throne was like the fiery flame, and its wheels as burning fire. .

  • russedav

    This is nothing less than the finger of Almighty God with Eric as His elect instrument.

  • russedav

    Some words are missing from the 3rd to last line in the above
    “a river fills you from within”:
    rather should be
    “A river, a silent and beautiful current, fills you from within”

    • Megan Davies

      Hi Russedave. Thanks for alerting us to this – the missing lines have now been added.

About Eric

Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time, a distinguished conductor, broadcaster and public speaker. His first album as both composer and conductor on Decca/Universal, Light & Gold, won a Grammy® in 2012, reaped unanimous five star reviews and became the no. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release... view full bio