The Singing Guitar

Immerse yourself in the poetry and sound of GRAMMY®-winning Conspirare at “The Muse Speaks: The House of Belonging.”

Featuring the voices of Conspirare
Sandy Yamamoto (violin),
Daniel Kopp (cello),
Carla McElhaney (piano),
and Rick Gabrillo (organ).

Pre-Concert Talk one hour before each performance with composer Alex Berko. Friday night’s pre-concert talk will be hosted by KMFA’s Dianne Donovan, and Saturday will be hosted by Robert Faires.

This concert featured two world premieres!

“Sacred Place” by Jewish American composer Alex Berko, an ecological service inspired by traditional Jewish mourning rituals, acknowledges our sacred connection to the earth. Berko draws from the writings of poets Wendell Berry and William Stafford. Learn more…

Shara Nova’s “House of Belonging” was inspired by the poem by David Whyte.

from “The House of Belonging”

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

The performance also included new and lasting works by new and lasting works by Margaret Bonds, Eliza Gilkyson, Alysia Lee, Kevin Puts, Michael Schachter, Moira Smiley, and Derrick Skye.

Program Information

Concert Program PDF

Program Listing
To Be Selected From
ReachingCraig Hella Johnson (b. 1962)
Haiku (from The Song Among Us)Moira Smiley (b. 1976)
HomeKevin Puts (b. 1972)
You Through MeAlex Berko (b. 1995)
Black OceanDerrick Skye (b. 1982)
JoyMargaret Bonds (1913-1972)
Most noble evergreen (from To Touch the Sky)Kevin Puts (b. 1972)
The House of BelongingShara Nova (b. 1974)
Sacred Place (World Premiere, commissioned by Conspirare)Alex Berko (b. 1995)
O VorsehungMichael Schachter (b. 1987)
Say Her NameAlysia Lee
The Negro Speaks of RiversMargaret Bonds (1913-1972)
SunflowersEliza Gilkyson (b. 1950), arr. Craig Hella Johnson
I Have Never Loved Someone (World Premiere, commissioned by Conspirare)Shara Nova (b. 1974)
Sacred Water, Sacred Soil (from The Song Among Us)Moira Smiley (b. 1976)


Repertoire subject to change.


Kevin Puts has created a new edition of “Most Noble Evergreen”  from To Touch the Sky on Kevin Puts (Premiered by Conspirare in 2012). Learn more about To Touch the Sky. He is also creating a choral version of “Home,” heard earlier this season at Hear Me Out.  Learn more about the string quartet version in this Pre-Concert Lecture: Kevin Puts, Home.

Conspirare performs Margaret Bonds’ The Negro Speaks of Rivers, a choral setting of Langston Hughes poem of the same title. Click here for the poem and background information.

The House of Belonging will include Shara Nova’s “I Have Never Loved Someone” in a new choral version commissioned by Conspirare. Listen to Shara Nova’s original song.

A Note from Alex Berko about "Sacred Place"

While discussing this new work for Conspirare, Craig and I spoke about many ideas surrounding themes of community, nature, compassion, and healing. He expressed interest in creating a sonic space that united the singers and audience in collective feelings of compassion and grief. This idea resonated with me and these communal aspects brought to mind the concept of a liturgical service.

Many composers throughout history have written liturgical works such as masses, requiems, and cantatas. Many of these settings come from Christian liturgy with text in Latin. There are also many secular masses that are not written specifically for a liturgical purpose nor have text exclusively in Latin. In very recent years, composers such as Sarah Kirkland Snider (Mass the Endangered) and Carlos Simon (Requiem for the Enslaved) have further expanded these forms by weaving in elements of social justice.

I was inspired by my contemporaries to combine the old with the new and bring a piece of my identity and tradition into this work. As a result, rather than using the Christian liturgy, “Sacred Place” is based on the Jewish service. Additionally, while each movement is titled after a different pillar of a Jewish service, none of the text is in Hebrew. Instead, I stitched together the writings of several American environmentalists and poets who have spoken about their relationship with the earth.

“Sacred Place” is broken into 6 movements: “Opening Prayer”, “Amidah”, “Shema”, “Mi Sheberach”, “Kaddish”, and “Closing Prayer”.

“Opening Prayer” and “Closing Prayer” use the same serene Wendall Berry passage from the poem “The Porch Over the Swing”. “Amidah” (to stand) uses snippets of a letter written by John Muir to Theodore Roosevelt asking him to meet at Yosemite National Park. Muir pleads Roosevelt to “stand” with him in preserving this land. “Shema” (to listen) uses a poem by William Stafford who urges us to listen to what the earth is saying. “Mi Sheberach” (a prayer for the sick) is the only English translation of the Hebrew prayer in the work. In the Jewish service, the Mi Sheberach is often the emotional peak as it asks for the congregation to pray “for those in need of healing”. (There is a beautiful Debbie Friedman version of the song that is often sung.) I view this movement as a call to action for us as inhabitants of the earth to do our part to heal it. Finally, “Kaddish” (a prayer for the dead) uses a very short line from the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore speaking about the sunset as a metaphor for remembering those who are no longer with us.

The title “Sacred Place” holds many meanings. Each writer that I have chosen views the earth as sacred. They speak of us as inhabitants, as visitors. Without the earth, there is no us. Another dimension is the experience that the listener has while hearing the piece live. It is not a coincidence that a piece framed in a Jewish service is being performed in a Lutheran church. I find it beautiful that the audience will be entering one sacred space with its own history and religious traditions and experiencing elements of another culture’s service. There is a deep unifying power in collective listening that transcends a single person or a single group’s traditions. I am thinking about the concept of the “service” in the broadest sense: coming together to sit, listen, breathe, and understand. The audience is entering a sacred space within themselves, silently resonating with those around them.

Kevin Puts

photo credit David White

Shara Nova

Alex Berko

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Conspirare is funded and supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department, Texas Commission on the Arts, and National Endowment for the Arts.