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Harvard Motets

The Memorial Church at Harvard University has held a daily service of Morning Prayers since nearly the university’s founding. The 15-minute service includes the reading of a psalm, a brief address by a member of the university community, the singing of a hymn, prayers, and a choral anthem, which are selected and directed by members of the church’s musical staff. Due to students’ busy schedules, a few services each week feature music for just eight men’s voices or eight women’s voices (rather than the larger mixed choir). This necessitates a search for unaccompanied repertoire for these small ensembles.

Though there is obviously much two-part Renaissance choral music for non-mixed voices, there has been almost no such unaccompanied repertoire composed in recent centuries. Nearly all two-part contemporary music requires a keyboard accompaniment. To attempt to rectify this large gap in the repertoire, in the past few years I have invited a number of distinguished contemporary composers to write new motets for this genre. It is a medium that is challenging to the composer (who has only two voices at his disposal with which to create harmony), but also rewarding in its distillation of musical essentials and consequent focus on counterpoint, voice-leading, and harmonic implication.

No composer has responded to my request more enthusiastically and abundantly than Rick Sowash, who has brought to the genre both tremendous skill and great imagination. When it became clear to me that Rick was not going to stop at just one or two motets—he’s written 31 so far, sketching most of them while on duty at the C.A.M., during the museum’s quieter hours—we discussed the notion that some of these short works should stretch the traditional “anthem” boundaries a bit.

With my encouragement, Rick decided to publish these new motets in a series of volumes, each featuring ten motets. Thus, Volumes I, II and III of the newly published Harvard Motets offer works in a surprisingly wide range of styles, even as they all still sound like Rick Sowash. All have texts that are suitable for use in sacred services, and all are learnable quickly and are natural and graceful to sing.

I hope these collections will be useful to other ensembles, not only our choirs at Harvard. All the motets may be performed either by non-mixed ensembles of women’s voices or men’s voices. (The men obviously sound an octave lower than is written.) They are also useful as vocal duets.

Carson Cooman
Composer in Residence
The Memorial Church at Harvard University
August 2010






"Open as the Sky," comes from the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese book wisdom by Lao-Tzu and thus, this motet is
appropriately written in a quasi-Chinese style.

"For the Blessings," comes from a traditional Protestant hymn by Anna Barbauld.

"Where Your Treasure Is," is taken from the famous words of Jesus quoted in Matthew 6:19: "Store not for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume."

The Harvard Motets:
Each volume contains ten short two-part sacred motets for S-A or T-B, composed for the Harvard Univ. Choir.

Price Qty.

The Harvard Motets: Volume I


The Harvard Motets: Volume II


The Harvard Motets: Volume III


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