The Mystic Trumpeter


A festival piece for advanced choir and a talented organist, with text of Walt Whitman.  A plaintive choral opening gives way to a virtuosic organ interlude that “channels” the mystic trumpeter of Whitman’s poem.  A great hymn of joy closes the piece.  With optional brass. 5 minutes.

The brass options are: solo trumpet & solo trombone or trumpet trio & trombone trio. To get these parts, please contact

A licensed copy is required for each member performing.



Commissioned by Marie Von Behren for Dr. Richard J. Bloesch, emeritus professor of music, University of Iowa, in recognition of Dr. Bloesch’s 40 years of music ministry at Congregational United Church of Christ, Iowa City, Iowa. Premiere 2011.


The composition of this piece afforded me my first opportunity to set Whitman.  I will admit that I struggled to find a suitable compositional approach to express the “exalted state” suggested by this visionary poem.  Sometimes one must sit for a long while with a text, but a way eventually opens.  I treated the first stanza as an invocation, by which Whitman invites the trumpeter to play a song of renewal, prophecy, and joy.

Because of the poem’s title, I felt that considerable invitation was given for the trumpeter figure to be wild.  (And the earlier stanzas in the complete poem suggest great freedom and wildness.)  So, the organ interlude which follows the “invocation” is rhapsodic and improvisatory, and none too tame — as if, when consulting the oracle, one is eager to hear the prophecy, but one must put up with the oracle being as free-spirited as the oracle actually is.

Finally, the full-throated prophetic utterance is ready to be given, and a noble hymn in the brass (or reed stops on the organ) emerges out of the mystery, functioning as a cantus firmus for the final section of the piece.  The choir responds in the poet’s voice, joyful that the plea for vision has been answered in such fullness.  Eventually the ecstasy subsides, as the choir “returns to earth,” singing, “enough to merely be! enough to breathe! Joy, joy, all over joy!”

Now trumpeter for thy close,
Vouchsafe a higher strain than any yet,
Sing to my soul, renew its languishing faith and hope,
Rouse up my slow belief, give me some vision of the future,
Give me for once its prophecy and joy.

O glad, exulting, culminating song!
A vigor more than earth’s is in thy notes,
Marches of victory – man disenthrall’d – the conqueror at last,
Hymns to the universal God from universal man – all joy!
A reborn race appears – a perfect world, all joy!
Women and men in wisdom innocence and health – all joy!
Riotous laughing bacchanals fill’d with joy!
War, sorrow, suffering gone-the rank earth purged
– nothing but joy left!
The ocean fill’d with joy – the atmosphere all joy!
Joy! joy! in freedom, worship, love! joy in the ecstasy of life!
Enough to merely be! enough to breathe!
Joy! joy! all over joy!

Additional information


SATB organ (choral score)

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