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When David Heard

Dr. Ronald Staheli, more than any other conductor I have ever worked with, understands my music. He is that rare musician who discovers more music in the music than the composer even realized was there. So when I received the Barlow Commission to write a work for his amazing choir, I knew it had to be something special. The previous year Ron had recorded my Water Night, and his recording is, in my opinion, the quintessential performance of that piece. He seemed to find such powerful beauty in the rests, empty moments that became electric in his hands, so as I set out to write When David Heard I decided that my first and most principal musical motive would be silence.

The text, one single, devastating sentence, is from the King James Bible; II Samuel, 18:33:

When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!

Setting this text was such a lonely experience, and even now just writing these words I am moved to tears. I wrote maybe 200 pages of sketches, trying to find the perfect balance between sound and silence, always simplifying, and by the time I finished a year later I was profoundly changed. Older, I think, and quieted a little. I still have a hard time listening to the recording.

When David Heard was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Arts for the Brigham Young Singers, and is dedicated with love and silence to Dr. Ronald Staheli.

When David Heard received its premiere on March 26, 1999.

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

  • Preston Anderson

    man Mr.Whitacre your song when david heard is just beautiful. here it is 12:54 on a tuesday night and im up listening to this beautiful song. well done well done!!!!!!

    • http://ianmcdougal.com Ian McDougal

      I find the song is somehow even more effective in the middle of the night. :)

  • David DeLuca

    This song moved me to tears. You have a wonderful gift. God bless you.

  • marissa

    i am a freshman in highschool and my teacher playd this for us and it touched the whole class we have since improved greatly with the insperation this song and composer have givin us. it is songs like this that make me want to presue a degree in music i may only be 14 but Eric Whitacre constantly keeps me one that road.

  • Andrew Wood

    Just wondering. would it be possible to transcribe 'When David Heard' to strings? I'd like to know hoe it sounds. espesially the big fat juicy chords.

    • Elliott

      I'm on it.

      • Andrew Wood

        Tell me when you do, i'd be eternally grateful.

        • James McRay

          Are you sure that's a good idea? Dissonance sounds beautiful because it is sung.

          • Elliott

            Dissonance can sound beautiful on strings too. :)

  • Anna Nieman

    I have never had a piece of music touch me as powerfully or as deeply as this piece did. The building chords on "my son" pull at the corners of my heart in a way I, even as an experienced choral singer, have never felt before. This is now at the top of my bucket list of pieces to sing…over all things Mozart, Z Randall Stroope, John Rutter, etc. I would give up all the choral moments of my life for a chance to sing this song, especially with Eric Whitacre himself as the conductor. Music is supposed to be an experience, an invitation from the performers to the audience to come experience this emotion with them, not merely an entertainment, and that is exactly what this song captures. No one can sit in the audience and listen to this without experiencing it. No one with a heart at least. Music is a story, told with few words. This captures that perfectly. A single sentence that normally one would skim over is suddenly something that causes the heart to weep.

    • Sarah

      One word for your comment: Perfect.

    • SaraS

      I sang it in college, and I would give anything to sing it again.

  • Inez Timberger

    I love this song. My school's chamber choir did this song for a concert with you. It amazed me when I heard it. I truly love this song. Thank you for working with the Hudson Valley schools in New York. It was a great experience!

  • Ben

    I like this song because it feels like its driven by emotion.

  • Marc Leatham

    We've all felt the bitter darkness of crying ones self to sleep. It's never been a sought after experience for me, at least until I recognized those bitter sobs echoing in "When David Heard" For some divine reason, the song brought me down to those infrequently potent nights of exhaustion, screaming tears into my poor pillow. I was surprised however, when the song did not leave me there. It carried me as only a lullaby could, to resolved rest. Mr Whitacre, thank you for bottling this part of our souls. We can now cherish it for the defining moment it truly is.

  • Sharon Proctor

    I sang this piece in NY with the Central City Chorus. I amost died, and went to heaven with Absalom. It is exquisite. The ebb & flow of grief in the music coupled with the silences is profound.

    A Catholic priest in the audience was moved to tears in that CCC performance. I do the same every time I sing it to myself or play it from the CD.

    Thank you, Eric.

  • Anika Goslen

    This is absolutely beautiful. There are so many emotions in that one sentence and its amazing how perfectly this piece pulls them all together from the silences to the building on the word "son" to the chant-like cadence of the basses that reflect the army that wrongfully killed Absolom as well as the realization that David comes to that he would have rather died in his stead. The piece is so hauntingly beautiful. I feel as though this is exactly how David must have wept over his child.

  • Simone

    I heard this performed by the Vlaams Radio Koor about 5 months ago here in Brussels (at Studio 5, Flagey), but only just found your website and thus am listening to it again for the first time, as it were. I was moved to tears by the live performance, and am surprised to find myself once again so moved even at a recording. Having just finished a strenuous rehearsal for a concert next week, perhaps this reaction should be expected, but I find it wonderfully, sorrowfully surprising. Regardless, it's beautifully emotive music…

  • Jean Martin

    You have turned this 70yr old into an addict, Eric. I am totally hooked on choral music after listening to your magnificent work. Deeply and profoundly soul stirring this is, so it is! Life enhancing too, so it is!

  • Logan Rutledge

    So, I'm pretty sure this is my favorite piece of yours, I love them all. I'm a little afraid for where my music education is taking me, I feel that I'm becoming too robotic, when I always tell myself that is when music becomes dead. I say this because when the tenor comes in at about 2 minutes in, I went,"That's really sharp." How could I recognize that and be submersed in the beauty of the sounds being risen off the page? I don't understand…

  • Sam Kreitzer

    Wow, what a beautifully written piece of music. You took a simple passage from the Bible and painted a picture of the scene. While listening to this song I can picture in my mind David crying his soul out to God over the death of his son. I can imagine how hard it must have been to put that kind of emotionally straining event for David into music. Congratulations, Mr. Whitacre; you did it!

  • Javier Martin

    i cant help but cry every time i hear this. There have been moments when i have started to weep and shake. Thank you again Eric. <3

  • Jesse VanDenKooy

    This is by far the most moving and powerful pieces of music I have ever heard. It truly (beyond all others) produces a religious and almost supernatural revelation to the way we perceive sound into emotion. Every silence casts a weighty load on the listener and purifies them of thought, preparing their unknowing ears to be vulnerable to the awesome and absolute profundity of the line, and to it's related emotion.

    Thank you for this music, the world needs it.

    I am humbled as human.

  • Joe

    I've been soaking in this work for about a year now. The last 2 minutes of this piece are almost too much for a man's soul to take. My eyes fill up and I have to close them and sit quietly until I recover. What an accurate yet reverent depiction of a father's agony. This music is truly a treasure of Western civilization, as is its composer.

  • Jenn

    I've been a fan of yours since high school (band nerd, woohoo) but I never really liked choral music until about 3 years ago. It's now what I listen to the vast majority of the time. I sing whenever I'm alone (no confidence to sing for others!) and find that it relaxes me more than anything else in the world.

    As I type this, I'm listening to When David Heard for the first time. I have goosebumps, it's simply amazing. I have a feeling I will be on the site for a while listening to everything.

  • Alejandro Bonfil

    You, truly, an inspiring man, Mr. Whitacre. I am a young composer wanting to eventually be known for my choral works. Its not easy. I have always liked your style, and was always in love with your harmonies. Listening to your music makes me want to pull out some staff paper and write for hours. I think you are my biggest idol. I would love to do what you do when I am older. You live my dream, Mr. Whitacre. I'll always be a fan (one of millions)

  • Devin Lorenz

    I have my Light and Gold pre-ordered! Ill this song be on it? I know there was a bit of a discrepancy with Seal Lulaby, and I sure wouldn't mind if there was another one here. I can't wait to get the CD; you are definitely the master of your style, Mr. Whitacre. I look forward to hearing your works for a long time. God bless.

    • Ashley L.

      Hey…I know you :)

      I really there will be a piano book for this music someday

  • Belinda

    I've had the privilege to sing When David Heard in a workshop with Robert Hollingworth.

    'My son, my son, my son….'

    9 years ago I so nearly lost my son, and for a little while I lived as though I had, a sort of living grief. But singing, and sobbing my way through this cathartic music released something and cleansed me. Reliving the loss in your music, it was so painful, and it went deep; it so expressed what both my sons mean to me, and the gratitude I feel that I have them both, still. And I could make it a celebration life, of parenthood and connectedness. My son!

    I hope you haven't felt such loss, yet the miracle is you can express it so powerfully.

    Thank you Eric.

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Belinda,

      I was so moved by your post. I'm so grateful that you didn't lose your son, and I'm so sorry you had to live through what must have been a life-changing time. Thank you so much for sharing this with me.

      Warmest regards,
      Eric

  • David Johnson

    So to date, I have enjoyed all your music, and I have learned and performed Bass or Tenor parts for a number of them (Lux Arumbque, Leonardo Dreams … , and Cloudburst, and I'm learning Sleep for the Virt Ch. .

    I have wandered through the Five Hebrew Love Songs, marveled at Paradise Lost, and loved the wonderful simplicity of the Seal Lullaby, as my daughter learns it for her choir. I have listened to it all … almost.

    Tonight, Being a bit bored I opened and listened to When David Heard, boredom was replaced with shock and awe, and I was driven into an emotional place beside you and the group that recorded it here.

    I was first astonished at the skill of the performers, then dragged into the power of the quiet of the piece. I was slowly brought to tears. My son, my son, my son.

    The piece ended, and I sat transfixed … staring at the monitor. I got up … walked around … dried my eyes, sat back down and played it again. and read your pained words from the L.A. Masters Chorale show. I am moved, I thought I was beginning to understand choral music, I am but a babe. I used to think that it was all just music, something to listen to and perform … I never expected to feel such things directly from a tune, only life itself can evoke emotions so powerful.

    As I listened to it I was reminded of moments in my 45 years where I had experienced real loss, and those moments again came alive and reinforced in me, why I am … who I am. It rekindled adversity, hurt and pain. Here I sit, 30 min later recomposed, but spent, and appreciative.

    I don't think I could perform that, its just too much, if you did a virt ch with it (unlikely) I would pass. I have no right. Now I go hold my children.

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      David, thank you so much for your gracious and heartfelt post. I was so deeply moved by your words.

  • Jordan Bearden

    Never in all my life have I heard such pure emotion and grief with any piece of music. I may only be 18 years old, but I have lived through the pain of losing someone you love. The assistant director of music at my church passed away about a year ago, and the whole church was heavily impacted. He was not only a magnificent pianist and baritone singer, but he was a friend to everyone he came into contact with. I once got the privilege to play piano for him, and it was a moment that I will never forget. This piece remindes me of the sorrow that filled my heart and soul when I learned that I would never see that man again. It makes me feel such pain for those who have suffered like David did. I have never felt more moved by any other piece of music before I heard this work of art. It's truly a blessing to hear your music Mr. Whitacre. Thank you for showing us all such beauty and wonder.

  • Patton Rice

    Hi Eric,

    I've been listening to each new offering with great anticipation and my students ( I teach all the music classes at the Mississippi School of the Arts) are intensely dedicated fans as well. I have to say that this work, more than any of your others, has a profound affect each time I hear it. I lost my mother after a long bought with alzheimers this past year and for some reason I find this setting the most perfect musical expression of grief known to me. I don't know how you got there, but your use of the silences is what speaks to me so deeply and goes to that place in my soul that only music can reach. All I can say is those 200 pages paid off!

    I will try to make a trip sometime this season to catch a concert where you are conducting to thank you for the incredible gift you have presented to all of us with your music. I'd also love to congratulate you personally for your extraordinary and well deserved success. Little did I know those many years ago at UNLV that all your fun and creative energy would result in such a gift to the world.

    Bravo and Thank you!

  • Aubrey

    I heard this piece many years ago. It made me feel something that, at the time, I could not describe. When I first heard this piece, I couldn't keep myself from crying. I have always been an empathetic person, but this song did something to me that I couldn't even understand. Since that time, I experienced a great loss in my life, akin to the one portrayed in this piece. I now understand what this song made me feel that first day I heard it. My faith is the most important thing in my life to me. When I was dealing with the loss of a dear friend, I had moments in my life when all I could do was cry out, an intelligible cry from the spirit. Only God could understand what those sounds meant. When I listen to this song now, it reminds me of those moments when I would cry out and something inside me would tell me that God could hear me, that He did understand, that I was not alone. I believe God has truly blessed you with an incredible gift. This song gave me hope and strength and faith in a time when I felt I had nothing left. That is an incredible thing to do for someone. I hope and pray that, if ever you need it, someone somewhere will give you the hope, strength, and faith in a time of darkness that you gave me.

  • Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

    As I sit here listening to this piece right now, I am crying. Mr. Whitacre, your music has a power unlike anything I've ever heard or seen before. Your music has changed my life and convinced me to commit my life to music. My school's Senior Chorus performed i thank you god for most this amazing day last year at Lincoln Center to rave reviews, and we will be performing this piece later this year and I cannot wait! The lead up to and the chord at 1:49 has shown me God in a way I've never seen God before.

    Thank you.

  • Spencer Bell

    In my music theory we are studying whole tone scales and I suggested this song as an example of this technique being used perfectly.

    I wonder if Whitacre has been influenced by Tormis?

  • Erin Hoensch

    This is the song I play when I'm at my darkest, each time it has picked me up and made things clearer. Thank you so much for creating this wonderful piece of music. I don't know where I'd be in life without your creations, Eric Whitacre.

  • Jeanna Wilkes

    Dear Eric,

    Thank you so much for such a passionate piece. It only helps me glimpse what my father felt emotionally when my older brother passed away. Thank You.

    Jeanna Dacey Wilkes

    Junior, Delta State University, under the Direction of Dr. Richard Waters.

  • Willard14

    i've listened to this piece so often and have been so often lost in the beauty of the music that i thought i knew the music very well. however after reading what you wrote above, i am now utterly moved by the silence. listening to the silence of the piece has intensified it to the highest level. it may have brought me to tears before, but now tears don't even begin to cover the emotion that is flowing through me. the silence brings the full meaning to bear. i've read this verse (II Samuel, 18:33) many many times in my life and yet never quite understood it. your music brings it to life and makes the listener LIVE this moment.. a moment of pain, loss, sorrow, anguish.

    thank-you for your hard work

  • Kelly Jones

    I love this song because it sounds exactly like weeping. Those long, silent moments when you can hardly take breath, and then all in one, heaving motion you are sobbing with your entire body. That is what this song is, and it fills me with so much unbearable emotion…I adore it.

  • Francis

    Disclaimer: This might sound corny. A lot.

    Mr. Whitacre, as many people have stated, your music brings me to tears sometimes. I find you to be an inspiration for me, an aspiring composer (hopeful to major in composition in college). Your pieces truly have the ability to not only let my tears flow, but listening to it feels like a spiritual thing. Simply listening to this music is, to me, like praying without words. It's deeper, more meaningful than anything I could ever say to God. I just let it wash over me.

    It is my dream to be able to write pieces with the amazing emotion and power you funnel into yours. I plan on writing more music, and once I have something I think worthy of, well, anything, I will send it to you, in hopes that you spare it a moment to critique. r even just listen to.

    Thank you for allowing me to escape this world and glimpse the next. Your music not only gives me inspiration and emotion, but hope.

  • Claudia

    At 1:00 this morning, I turned out all the lights in my room and listened to this song as loud as my iPod would allow me, in complete darkness and silence. I whimpered, gasped, stiffened, cried.

  • Gabe Ellis

    This piece is absolutely incredible. I'm playing Noisy Wheels of Joy in my high school wind ensemble, so I came to the website to have a look. What I've found has blown me away. I also wondered if anybody had read the book "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, because that Bible verse is used toward the end of the book in a very touching scene.

  • http://www.gloriana.com.au Andrew

    Eric, I don't normally post comments, but having conducted quite a few of your pieces, I really did want to put some thoughts down. When David Heard I've directed in concerts three times now. The first time we did it, I brought the piece in, said a few words about it, and we started rehearsing. The choir were won over by the end of the first phrase. I remember one of the altos breaking down, being unable to sing. I remember one of the basses faltering on that unison A in the bass line just before the opening phrase recaps, unable to keep focus. I remember one of the baritones lose his composure singing the C in that Bb chord right before the tenor solo. Myself, I've also had moments where I've had to rein it in, and just keep leading. I love this piece, it's been so rewarding working on it. I hear that first A minor harmony and the whole piece is there in that chord. At first I thought that the middle section of the work was a little too long, but now I can see that the structure is perfect- indeed, I now don't think about structure anymore, I think about the various aspects and stages of grief- that this piece explores in such a powerful way. So, I thank you for When David Heard. Looking forward to doing Cloudburst later in the year.

  • Greg

    Dear Eric…from around about the nine minute mark into the piece and then over the next two to three minutes is some of the most intense, anguished, painful, soul searing, I don't know, just devastating choral singing I've ever heard or experienced in my life. It's almost unbearably heart wrenching and yet stunningly beautiful all at once. Really, it's almost indescribable. Thank you for this amazing work. The choir is amazing. For all that I've said, this performance is really beyond words.

  • Nate Castro

    I am a senior in high school and joined choir last year and have played violin for eight years. Many humans go through emotions day by day. I believe music to be something to express these emotions and it is songs as these that call out to my heart and let me know that I am not alone. The first time I heard this, I had chills and teared up. The first my son, my son section built up into a blindingly painful chord and as the tenor voices emerged, something in my heart broke and I felt the tenors to be the voice of David crying out against suppressing his grief. The middle section is hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizes me as David is dealing with all of the turmoil that one feels when losing someone. I love how music carries on like this and how the silence allows for the listener to look inward and interpret their own personal feelings. The rececitive section paints dim images of David as he hears of this news and quietly seeks refuge to his chamber. I love the elivating chord of "he went up". I have absolutely no problem at all with this piece, it is absolutley perfect in every way. The length is just right and it allows for those that need to get out what they need out the chance to do so. The fact that you have the gift to convey such powerful emotion in a piece is remarkable and this piece has become my favorite choral work since I joined choir. I would just like to let you know that your work has inspired me to compose as I work over chords on the piano every day. In my life, I absolutley need music daily to help remind me what emotion feels like and I believe this piece to be my favorite simply because of how it digs into my mind and pulls out the sounds I have heard at night crying. This song heals me in the sense that I am not alone and the ending part carries in my heart. Once someone experiences something like this, it becomes part of them. I hope to get the chance to experience this piece as I go to Northern Arizona University. Thank you for your music, Eric Whitacre.

  • Joshua Joseph

    Dear Mr. Whitacre,

    This is Joshua Joseph, the Indian boy who never got his question answered at La Guardia High School because of the darn bell ( AND YOU PROMISED to answer it through this blog…haha. )Why did you start composing music and what has drawn you to do primarily choral work?

    Also, I just wanted to let you know that your music has overall been a way for me to cope with my problems THESE LAST TWO years and to look at life at a brighter perspective. Thank you so much for ultimately changing my life. When David Heard and i thank you god for most this amazing day especially touched my heart in a way that has never been touched before. So thank you.

  • Andrada

    Mr Whitacre,

    I listened to your song for the first time in my voice class when my teacher played it for us and couldn't hold back tears. I was amazed by your capability to capture such strong emotions whithin a song. It has inspired me to work harder in my choral and vocal technique. My ultimate goal is to one day sing this beautiful song.

    Thank very much for writing this. Your work is brilliant!

  • Caitlin

    I have a feeling if I ever sang this I wouldn’t be able to keep going, I would just be crying on stage…

  • Marc

    I get so emotional when listening to this piece. I can’t imagine what it will be like when I have a son of my own.

  • Jon Handy

    Truly the quintessence of musical excellence.

  • Megan

    Dear Mr. Whitacre

    Your works have brought so much joy to my life and I thank you so much for that. This song moved me to tears right from the beginning and I sat listening in awe, tears rolling down my cheeks. You have the ability to bring simple, straightforward poems and texts to life with your music and they speak to everybody who listens.
    Thank you so much for being the best composer you can be!

    Megan Thomas
    South Africa

  • Trevor Kaminski

    You balance silence and raw emotion in this work perfectly. I don’t know how you do it. You are a magician with music. That Ab-sa-lom chord in the beginning speaks volumes. I loose it during the “My son, My son, Oh My Son” part.

  • Doug Mumford

    The greatest musical experience I’ve ever had was hearing the BYU Singers perform this piece in 2001. It was performed in the middle of the concert, and by the end of the piece several members of the choir (the same members that recorded the version played here) were in tears as they finished. The crowed gave a standing ovation in the middle of the concert, which I’ve never seen happen again, and the applause went on for probably close to 2-3 minutes, with the choir taking five or six bows. One of those musical experiences that only happens a few times in one’s lifetime. Simply amazing. This is still my favorite piece of all time.

  • Andrew B.

    I love this piece incredibly, and want to see it properly justified, so I was wondering if anyone could elucidate the rather messy biblical context? David’s grief strikes me as very improper in the actual story.

    • cory_hartman

      Andrew, good catch looking at the narrative context of the text. It is messy indeed.



      To understand what’s going on, one really needs to look at it in a very wide context, which is the remarkably broad and rich swath of material we have about David in the Bible in 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, the first chapter of 1 Kings, and the many Psalms attributed to him. Looking at all of this material we see a portrait of a very complex man. One facet of that complexity is that David was an ardent lover: of women physically, of men emotionally, and of God with his whole person. When David’s love for women and men surpassed his love for God and what God loves, immense problems ensued.



      We see this in the immediate surroundings of the text of “When David Heard.” On the one hand, David naturally desires to survive, and he believes that as monarch he has to put down his son’s coup for the sake of the kingdom and the people he is charged with governing. But he is caught between this and his fervent love for his son, which continues to burn despite that his son is trying to kill him. He hopes he can find a way to crush the rebellion without Absalom losing his life, but it doesn’t work out that way.



      But to understand this dynamic better we have to go further back to chapter 13 of 2 Samuel. Amnon, David’s son by another wife, raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister. David’s doting love for his son Amnon inhibited him from administering justice the way he would have if the crime had been committed outside his family. That injustice is where Absalom’s rivalry with his father began when Absalom murdered his half-brother. David, out of kingly duty, temporarily exiled Absalom, but even then his love for Absalom made him ache to bring him back.



      Nevertheless, the root of the conflict goes back still further, to chapters 11 and 12. Here David commits adultery with the wife of one of his most loyal elite warriors and has the soldier killed to cover up his crime. When David’s sin is exposed by a prophet, David admits his guilt. The prophet tells David that God has forgiven his sin so that he would not die, but there would still be serious consequences, because David as God’s anointed king had misrepresented the character of God to Israel and the surrounding nations by his behavior. As punishment, the first son of the adultery would die a baby, and someone from David’s own house would rise up to overthrow him. This was Absalom.



      So when David heard that Absalom, his son, was dead, he knew that the circumstances that had brought this about ultimately stemmed from David’s own sin years before. Absalom died because David hadn’t. This is why David cries out, “Would God I had died for [instead of] thee!” His cry comes not only out of intense grief but also out of intense guilt. The result of the pardon David had received from God seemed more agonizing than if David had died for his sin himself.

  • Celia Tow

    I sat down to listen to this piece after reading the comments, knowing that it would be an experience, to say the least. This piece is absolutely incredible; not only the chords but how you use the chords to convey such a powerful, terrible emotion. I found myself in tears after a few minutes. Never has a piece of music made me cry before. I expected I’d be able to get through it, but somehow I just couldn’t, and I didn’t really know why at first. And the silence, oh my God. The profound silence. Stunning.

  • Jenna

    Dear Mr. Whitacre,

    In the past, when I thought my life couldn’t get much harder, I found myself listening to your compositions and they always made me feel so much better, at least until the next tragedy struck, and then, dutifully, I would return to listen again.
    Recently, my life has been spiraling out of control and I came extremely close to losing the will to live.
    It may seem a bit strange, but I use art to portray mood. There are innumerable pages of ‘vent art’ in my sketchbook, each an attempt to pour my emotions out onto paper, each falling far short of what I intended to get from them. So the thoughts and feelings built up for months. In the chaos that is my mind I’d not thought to return to your music until a while ago.
    I’d never listened to this song before, for reasons I don’t quite understand yet, so when I pressed play, I was transfixed. I sat for a very long time even after the song ended, playing it over and over again in my head, and…
    I opened my sketchbook for the first time in a long time. I opened it to the first clean page and I drew and I didn’t even realize that I was weeping until I was done, and when I was finished, I looked at what I’d done, and I realized that I had just finished what I’d been trying to portray for a long time. All of the stress, sorrow, and anger, now something I could put a face on, which is the only way that I can cope with feelings.
    Since then, I’ve reconnected with friends and family I’d pushed away, I’m not as angry a person as I’d become. Life literally seems so much brighter now!
    Mr. Whitacre, I’ve never had a piece of music move me in such a way that it completely turned my life around. The silence even seems to ring, the steady build-up of sound, such a simple quote used, and the whole piece is so touching… you’re quite the powerful musician. Thank you and God bless.

    With regards,
    Jenna

  • http://www.adonaimusic.com Marguerite Samuel

    Thank you for writing this incredibly wonderful piece. It speaks exactly what the text implies and says. It is reveals the beauty, and ugliness of a father’s love for his child. Thank you!

  • http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/satb-choral/when-david-heard Timothy Shorey

    Mr. Whitacre, you capture the beauty of silence in all of your pieces, in this piece especially. The silence at minute thirteen lets an audience process what it’s just heard, but then you jerk them back into the piece with a beautiful Forte that diminishes gradually into nothing; letting the listener again process the whole of the music. Thank you for your passion to bless others with what God has blessed you with.

    • Timothy Shorey

      Mr. Whitacre, I was reading through the Bible today when I came across one of my favorite Psalms: Psalms 27. I love the first six verses–

      “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.”

      When I read these verses I can’t help but imagine them in song, and I believe that the only person who could match the power and weight of these verses is you, Mr. Whitacre. I would really love to hear these sung.

      Blessings,
      Tim

  • Anna spencer

    A co worker turned me onto 91.7 in Houston for classical music. I’ve been tuning in now and then in the car with my three sons, age 11, 4 and 2. My 11 yr old especially loves it, says it reminds him of watching a movie. Today he was reading a new novel and as your song came on he told me the story he was reading “went” with the music. We all listened to “when David heard” inraptured by the cords, and the silence. By the end of the song I was almost in tears driving down the road as my two year old chimes in, “my son, my son, my son…”. Looking at the rear view mirror at my three boys in the backseat, I felt connected to this music by heartstrings of a mother’s love. Thank you.

    • http://ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Anna, I can’t begin to tell you how meaningful your message was to me. Thank you, and thank you for being such an obviously extraordinary mother – your boys are so lucky.

      • Anna spencer

        What an unexpected surprise to receive such a quick response! Thank you for your thoughtful words. I strive to live each day for a few cherished moments amongst the chaos. Raising a family, building a strong marriage and continuing to search within myself for deeper understanding of where I came from and where I am going – this chaos that I speak of – all wonderful and messy. It is imperative to create and emphasize those cherished moments like our car ride a few days ago. Your song made a blissful memory possible.

  • Christian Kuhlman

    Mr. Whitacre, you have touched thousands of lives with this music. Although I have never lost a son (due to the fact I’m 14 and don’t plan on having a son anytime soon), I almost lost my father last summer to necritising pancreatitis, a deadly disease in the stomach area. But everyday, I was awoken by one of your pieces, and I fell asleep to one each night. It inspired me to keep my head up. The massiveness yet subtlety and humbleness of each piece is how I try to live each day that I am on this Earth. Complicated, but nothing that a little explanation couldn’t fix with the right melody. You are one of my greatest heroes Mr. Whitacre, and it was a pleasure singing for you in Virtual Choir 3.
    With hopes of meeting you someday, Christian Kuhlman, United States.

  • Margot Beekink

    Any parent’s biggest fear is loosing a child. As a mother of three sons this piece got me to burst into tears the first time I heard it and still does years later.
    We will sing When David heard (for the third time) on the next concert of our chamberchoir Kwintessens and rehearsing it makes me emotional every time!
    Eric, thank you so much for creating this piece! It is a privilege being a part of it.

  • Luísa Costa

    Speechless…

    Just… Thank you.

  • Caleb

    Mr. Whitacre,

    I am still in High School. I am going into my senior year. While I have not experienced the loss and may not truly understand the loss of my own son, I can’t help but relate to this song with such a similar feeling of loss. A year and a half ago A truly inspiring man came into my life. It’s that kind of inspiration that drives people to go and do something huge. He was my 10th grade band director Joshua Griffin. I have no clue who in your life has inspired you greatly, but I’m sure you understand the feeling I’m trying to convey. I dearly loved him . He was in a terrible car accident where his body was literally trampled over by another speeding car. The doctors said he would have to live the rest of his life “as a vegetable”. Not only was he able to speak within 3 days but he told them that right then and there that he would walk out of that hospital. Sure enough, he is still with us today. I listen to this piece and think of all the memories I’ve had with him, including playing the concert band arrangement of lux aurumque. I have quickly fallen in love with this piece since my chorus director, William Bennett, also an extreme inspiration to me, showed it to me. My highschool chorus is now performing it next year and I cannot wait.

    Caleb Ballad

  • fakih kurniawan

    i’m from indonesia and I am very impressed with your songs. Lyrics are simple but very touching artistic music.
    thanks mr.eric whitacre for your work

  • Sarah

    When I first heard this song we were taking a break from choir practice and my history teacher had the stereo on and choir that her daughter sang in, Pro Cantu, was singing this peace I felt like crying and I still do whenever I hear it

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  • Annie Dase

    When confronted with grief, most people feel powerless and apathetic, yet you have transformed this emotion into an expression of love and beauty. Thank you.

  • John Brewer

    Listening to When David heard reminds me of By the waters of Babylon. In mood and spirit, rather than musically. When I just read the passage from Samuel to my wife, while the piece played, I had hard time holding back tears. Very moving and touching. Thank you. I love the silences, very appropriate for such anguish and torment of losing a child.

  • MZ

    I was at your choral workshop in Melbourne last night and was so enthralled with your comments about your pieces, particularly the use of silence and the underpinning, physiologically engaging pulse of Lux.

    But, I was particularly thankful for the question and your comments on When David Heard. Whilst I enjoy performing all of your music, and particularly the pinging dissonance eventually resolved (…or at times unresolved), this is my favourite of your pieces by far (I lobbied like crazy for our choir to perform it – we’re yet to, but well on the way).

    I can’t explain why other than the beauty, simplicity and pained anticipation of the silences (for example, the “my son, my son, my son” at around 6 mins in the video above, or the impending crisis that builds to 9:40, followed by lament, resignation and then wailing). Or whether it is the element that first drew me to it, the wall of dissonant sound and then the explosive resolution (you were talking about “exploding chords”, well, there are two HUGE exploding chords in this piece, which happen in some of its quietest moments).

    Reading through all the comments I see a common word – “cathartic”. I’ve been very lucky not to experience significant loss. My troubles are what you could term “middle class worries” by comparison to the real world. But even still, the catharsis that this piece provides, the way it unconsciously grips you and drains you emotionally is incredible – every time I listen to it I literally sit staring at a wall for 30 mins afterwards. I can understand why it is hard for you to come back to it – how you could compose anything after this is a wonder (but, you have, and great stuff too!)

    You mentioned that chord in the opening that always kills you. Well, every time I hear it, the hairs on my body literally stand at attention… it also explains my little favourite bits in other pieces like Water Night :-)

    How Dr Staheli conducted this piece at its premiere without just breaking down into a mess right there is beyond me.

    Thanks for your music, and I hope you keep writing for many years to come. It’s a real pleasure performing your creations.

  • Brian Gruenewald

    Kinda crazy, but I had a dream last night that my college A Cappella choir was rehearsing this piece.

    This piece makes me want to find passages of scripture and try to set it to music.

  • sobrone

    If Alleluia is words “Praise God” in the scope of all its grandeur, then When David Heard is an equally powerful voice crying out “Oh, God I hurt, Oh, God I grieve, Oh, God where are you?” and the silence is that soul reaching for the next note and phrase as a supplication.It is, simply amazing.

    • Drew

      I already agreed with your comment, with every fibre of my soul. Yet when I saw it written with such clarity, and your reasoning of why there is so much silence; I cried. There isn’t enough silence in the world.

  • sobrone

    I have been going back through some of Eric’s comments on different pieces, because as a listener I really want to have a deeper understanding of the body of magnificent work. It is rare indeed when someone realizes that even during silence something is going on. And, that something is often very profound. I feel like the way much of Eric’s work is phrased he isn’t composing to come to the “end” of one phrase but to draw every bit of sound out of a phrase and then what silence is there beckons me to more of the beautiful sound. Perhaps it could be likened to prayer and meditation. The song being the prayer and the silence being meditative where we listen for the answer. That is perhaps an oversimplification from my feeble mind but this music captures more than any I ever heard or performed when I was younger the knowledge that even when there isn’t something going on, there is something going on. Whether we are experiencing a quiet day in the woods or a cloudburst in the open desert, nature is always saying something. We live during generations where we always ask whether we believe the glass is half full or half empty. Technically, the glass is always full. And this is true of Eric Whitacre’s work.

  • Muse of Sound

    I love this piece! Thank you Eric for your masturful command of sound and silence

  • James Dundas

    I recently heard this sung by the Concordia Choir under Rene Clausen at the music scholarship finalists weekend – I had known it before, but it never grows old.

  • Tom Saltsman

    Besides the pitch-perfect intonation in such incredibly tight harmonic passages without the aid of instruments and the use of silence, what strikes me is the impeccable white-sound blend in vowels and the flawless unison in the pronunciation of consonants–and to think the latter is achieved without the aid of a steady rhythm! I have heard many choral works on this famous biblical passage but none has ever made me feel David’s grief as profoundly as this highly impressive work. Incredible!

  • Margot

    Some ten years ago, this was the first of your compositions that I heard. I and three choir friends sat in a car in rapture, listening to the BYU Singers recording. It has been a touchstone through many events over the years. I was recently listening to your latest album, and this piece took on a whole new meaning as I sat at my desk and wept for a coworker who recently lost his teenaged son. Thank you for giving this piece to the world.

  • Aubrey

    I Enjoy this piece of music and would love to sing it one of these fine days

  • Zachary Onett

    Hey Eric Whitacre, I’ve been pretty inspired by you recently. If prizes like the pulitzer weren’t seemingly all about technique or conceptual flash I’d guess that this could have been nominated for such a distinction. Less classical music should try to be as serious without the humility and the bravery necessary to honestly commemorate.

    • Zachary Onett

      Well. the pulitzer isn’t ALL about that… but I’ll go out on a limb and say it often is in part.