PLACE with Saul Williams and Patricia McGregor



I love conducting contemporary music of all styles. I was the resident conductor of New York's Red Light Ensemble for seven years, and have guest conducted with the Wet Ink Ensemble, TILT Brass, Bang on a Can and International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), among other groups. I love working with composers and ensembles to bring new works to life, and have conducted many premieres, including American premieres of works by Beat Furrer, Michael Gordon, Tiziano Manca, David Lang and Simon Steen-Anderson.

Red Light New Music's album Barbary Coast (2015, New Focus Recordings) features a collection of works written for the group:

"Cirques" by Vincent Raikhel
"Chamber Concerto" by Liam Robinson
"The Night Mare" by Chris Cerrone
"Crispy Gentlemen" by Ted Hearne
"Brontal No. 3" by Scott Wollschleger

Red Light New Music
Erin Wight, viola
John Popham, cello
Yegor Shevstov, piano
Kevin Sims, percussion
Christa van Alstine, clarinets
Roberta Michel, flutes
Esther Noh, violin
Ted Hearne, conductor



October 1, 2015
San Francisco Conservatory
Ted Hearne conductor

LJ White Step
Caroline Shaw Entr'acte
Michael Gordon Cold (American premiere)
Ted Hearne But I Voted for Shirley Chisholm
Jen Hill  in memoriam my liver subtitled i hate that you're stoned all of the time subtitled Coldness And Cruelty: The Art of Masoch subtitled i have dozens of titles subtitled $1 lone star and i'm sry=
Andrew Norman Try

Read the San Francisco Examiner's skeptical review!




The Source is a modern-day oratorio, and a patchwork of songs based on American primary-source texts. The subject is Chelsea Manning, the US Army Private who infamously leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. 

The text, culled and arranged by librettist Mark Doten, sets Manning's words and sections of the classified material known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary.
The music, like the text, draws from diverse sources. Auto-tuned recitatives, neo soul ballads, icy string trios and moments of cracked-out musical theater are peppered with (and sometimes structured around) samples that bridge sonic worlds. 

The Source was premiered at the BAM Next Wave Festival in October 2014 - in a Beth Morrison Production, directed by Daniel Fish, with video designed by Fish and Jim Findlay - to four sold-out performances and rave reviews. (More about this production below). The Source was released as an album on New Amsterdam Records in October 2015. 

released October 2015 on New Amsterdam Records


Mark Doten

Mark Doten

The central fact of the classified materials that Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning leaked is their almost ungraspable scope. They include 483,000 Army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and 251,000 diplomatic cables; these were released, along with video of a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, by WikiLeaks and its media partners in 2010. The reporting at the time focused less on what the leaks revealed about America’s conduct of wars and diplomacy, than on the personalities involved. 

‘The Source’ prompts dinner table conversation. It offers a fresh model of how opera and musical theater can tackle contemporary issues: not with documentary realism - film and television have that covered - but with ambiguity, obliquity, and even sheer confusion.
— Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times
And as the texts felt cut up, a la Naked Lunch, and reassembled, so did Hearne’s music sound like myriad influences exploded and roughly pasted back together, the work of a true twenty-first century polyglot.”
— Henry Stewart, Opera News

Excerpt from the 2014 production of THE SOURCE at BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn; directed by Daniel Fish, with video design by Jim Findlay and Daniel Fish


The libretto for The Source is made from a patchwork of primary-source documents, including: 

  • The US military documents leaked by Pfc Manning and released by WikiLeaks: these are known as the "Iraq War Logs" and "Afghan War Diary"
  • Internet chats between Manning and former hacker Adrian Lamo, later published by (see below for more information)
  • Tweets from Lamo regarding his decision to turn in Manning
  • an array of questions that journalists have posed to Julian Assange
  • selections of interviews, radio, social media and popular music, drawn primarily from the same time period as the leaks




The text for this movement comes from the Afghan War Diary. "Smoke when bird nears" is a phrase that appears after it has been noted that US forces have called for an air evacuation. The music for this movement uses samples from the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock's classic film The Birds, as well as a classic American rendition of the song Smoke gets in your eyes.

from movement 1: [EXPLOSIVE HAZARD]   This text is drawn from the Iraq War Logs and describes an incident that occurred on December 21, 2007.

from movement 1: [EXPLOSIVE HAZARD]
This text is drawn from the Iraq War Logs and describes an incident that occurred on December 21, 2007.

from movement 1: [EXPLOSIVE HAZARD] This text describes an incident on August 10, 2008 in which 2 Iraqi civilians were killed and 3 were wounded.

from movement 1: [EXPLOSIVE HAZARD]
This text describes an incident on August 10, 2008 in which 2 Iraqi civilians were killed and 3 were wounded.

from movement 4: "s/as boy/as a boy" This text is drawn from the internet chats between Chelsea Manning and Adrian Lamo.

from movement 4: "s/as boy/as a boy"
This text is drawn from the internet chats between Chelsea Manning and Adrian Lamo.

from movement 9: [smoke when bird nears]   

from movement 9: [smoke when bird nears]

produced by Nick Tipp, Jesse Lewis and Ted Hearne
recorded by Jesse Lewis at Avatar Studios (Manhattan) and Systems Two Studios (Brooklyn)

Nathan Koci, music director
Ted Hearne, Mellissa Hughes, Samia Mounts, Isaiah Robinson, Jonathan Woody, vocalists
Courtney Orlando, violin
Anne Lanzilotti, viola
Leah Coloff, cello
Taylor Levine, electric guitar
Greg Chudzik, electric bass
Ron Wiltrout, drums

more information about the musicians




R WE WHO R WE is my ongoing collaboration with composer and electronic musician Philip White.
We put our first set together for Kathleen Supove's Music With a View Festival in 2011 and have been working together ever since.
Our first album R WE WHO R WE came out in 2013 on New Focus Recordings. Our second album "I Love You" was released in November 2017.

R WE WHO R WE, "I Love You" album cover image by Seth Gadsden

R WE WHO R WE, "I Love You"
album cover image by Seth Gadsden

RELEASED NOV. 21, 2017


On our debut album, we deconstructed pop songs: Madonna’s “Material Girl”, Eminem’s “Hi My Name Is” and of course Ke$ha’s “WE R WHO WE R” (from which we cribbed our name). The album paid uneasy tribute to the way these songs offered a sense of self for the listener, while maintaining a constant push undermining each song's exploitative potential.

With that, R WE WHO R WE became a project about how we sculpt and perform our identities.

”I Love You” shifts these ideas about identity onto a fractured set of cultural narratives about relationships, love and masculinity; honing in on the inevitable collisions. In nine original songs, the duo works through disturbed desire (“Song and Dance,” “Kristin”), adolescent projections (“I Just Want U II”, “Womb”), disintegrating relationships (“Silence”, “Valentine’s”, “Cutaway”) and violence (“Two Trees”, “Firestarter”).

Philip plays his mixer at our first performance in 2011. He never performed an R WE show sitting down again.

Philip plays his mixer at our first performance in 2011.
He never performed an R WE show sitting down again.

Our first album was released on New Focus Recordings in 2013.

"R WE WHO R WE mixes the free theft/collage style of Girl Talk with the raw noise of Merzbow. Philip White's mixer feedback, controlled through a homemade rig of circuits and lo-fi electronics, conjures the sound-world of legendary experimental musician David Tudor, but becomes something entirely new when fused with the production aesthetics of pop pioneer Dr. Luke. Ted Hearne's voice - inflamed, athletic and powerfully stark, with the operatic drama of a latter-day Jeff Buckley, the experimentalism of Mike Patton and party chic of Ke$ha herself - does furious battle with his own auto-tune. A tribute and commentary to both classic and ephemeral artists of the pop landscape, R WE WHO R WE uses pop music like graffiti uses public space, exploiting the tension between theft and tribute, much as collage artist John Oswald did 30 years ago with his seminal and mischievious album Plunderphonic."

From Doyle Armbrust's five star review of our first album in Time Out Chicago: 

"Listening to Ted Hearne and Philip White’s R We Who R We is a bit like attempting to force the beaters of an electric hand mixer through one’s nostrils and into the brain, then flipping the power on…and this is an unequivocally good thing. Using Top 40 hits like Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” and Madonna’s “Material Girl” as a point of departure, vocal hellion Hearne and electronic conjurer White hook listeners with the familiar while hurtling through often confrontational and exceptionally potent sonic deconstructions. Other than the lyric content, almost nothing remains of the source material, offering not pop-tune covers but compositional reinventions.

Hearne, who honed his classical chops at the Manhattan and Yale Schools of Music, drags his vocal cords through their paces. “Hi Is My Name” revs up Eminem’s ubiquitous flow to breakneck speed, tearing through syllables and forcing the listener to play catch-up. On “Original Self,” an original track, it’s as if the Chicago native is attempting to argue with Auto-Tune, railing against its magnetism as he wails atop a chorus of dental drills. Hearne’s inventive reimaginings of the lyrics draw you in, while White’s self-described “non-linear feedback system” similarly cloaks the deliberately provocative sound world of noise music in the shiny bluster of pop production. The result is something eminently, if weirdly, danceable and utterly gripping."



Since 2010, I've collaborated with five friends and fellow composers as Sleeping Giant. (above, pictured from left: Robert Honstein, Timo Andres, Jacob Cooper, <me>, Chris Cerrone, Andrew Norman)

We've presented concerts of our music and written new collaborative works together. Sometimes our differences cause schisms, sometimes our similarities are depressing, but through everything it's still rewarding to work through musical and aesthetic ideas with your friends. Here are some of the projects we've made together:


We recently premiered Hand Eye, an evening-length concert featuring new works by each of the six of us. It's a collection of responses to pieces of contemporary art in the incredible yet privately housed collection of Maxine and Stuart Frankel, who were the chief commissioners of the concert. Each of our works also features one of the six members of eighth blackbird. (My piece, By-By Huey, spotlights their ever-gutsy pianist Lisa Kaplan.) A more colorful take on the project can be gleaned from the above trailer.

Hand Eye's New York premiere took place at Carnegie Hall on January 18, 2016. Read the review.

Eighth blackbird's album Hand Eye was released in Spring 2016 on Cedille Records. 

Listen to an excerpt of my piece By-By Huey:



Cellist Ashley Bathgate commissioned Sleeping Giant to compose a new solo suite. Based in varying degrees on single movements of Bach cello suites, these movements are designed to be played consecutively, on their own, or integrated with Bach. Ashley will premiere the project at le Poisson Rouge in New York in January 2016, in a concert presented by the Metropolis Ensemble.


The performance portion of Sleeping Giant's partnership with the Albany Symphony, as a Music Alive residency from NewMusicUSA, kicked off with a concert the ASO marketed as Requiem Reimagined. This piece used Mozart's Requiem and Süssmayr's completion as a canvas to create an unsettling but reverential love song to the ritual of classical music. With video design by Daniel Fish and Josh Thorson projected on the stunning pipe organ of Troy Savings Bank, the Albany Symphony and singers of Albany Pro Musica gave committed and daring performances.


Our second project as part of NewMusicUSA's residency was an evening of vocal music with Theo Bleckmann, backed by the Albany Symphony's resident chamber ensemble Dogs of Desire.

I first worked with Theo on a tour to Liverpool of Ridge Theater's Carbon Copy Building (the first collaborative theatrical work of David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe). His voice is smooth but direct, and he is a musician's musician. It felt great to have him anchor a night of songs. Read the review here.





Our first collaborative work was Histories, a 45-minute collection of interwoven movements based on Stravinsky's seminal 1918 septet l'Histoire du Soldat. Some of us wrote music that used l'Histoire as a canvas to scrawl on, or as samples to cut up and rearrange, while some of us accessed Stravinsky's timbral inventions only ephemerally. One of my contributions to the project, "Randos III," is posted above, as played by Brooklyn's fabulous Deviant Septet.

law of mosaics

law of mosaics





"Thomas Jefferson went through the New Testament and removed all the miracles, leaving only the teachings."
"Meaning is a matter of adjacent data."
"The law of mosaics: how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes."

These passages, along with many others, are appropriated from a variety of sources and arranged by David Shields into his 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. It is a patchwork treatise on art and digital culture, and is an inspiration for Law of Mosaics, a new 30­-minute piece for A Far Cry. 

Beats from Ted Hearne's Law of Mosaics, recorded by A Far Cry from 'The Law Of Mosaics' ℗ Crier Records Released on: 2014-11-04

The musical material from the first movement, Excerpts from the middle of something, is lush and climactic ­ but it is also a fish out of water, removed from surrounding music that might help it be better contextualized. It could follow a tense build­-up, or precede a climax and resolution, but instead we hear it repeated and revised. As the material circles in on itself, it begins to make sense on its own, but never really "goes" anywhere.

The second movement, Palindrome for Andrew Norman, is constructed entirely of samples lifted from other pieces of music. Each plays an important or climactic role in the piece from which it is lifted, but is used here as a single building block in the construction of a symmetrical (and rather arbitrary) formal structure: the palindrome. Each sample is altered from its original composition in some way: it may appear backwards, or re-voiced, or as a canon with itself, but an element of its essential character is always preserved.

Andrew Norman is a contemporary composer from New York whose 2010 string trio "The Companion Guide to Rome" is heard among the many snippets of source material in this movement.

In some way, the rich history of works written for the string orchestra informs and influences every performance by every individual string orchestra active today, whether they choose to perform those works or not. Climactic moments from "Adagio for Strings" and "The Four Seasons," slowed down and layered on top of one another explores what can happen when two "staples" of the repertoire (likely to be found on a Best Classical Hits CD) are stretched out and mashed up.

The fourth movement, Beats, is driven by noise, punk and electronic music more than classical music influences. A simple and clear form is filled with music that plays with the space between pitch and non-­pitched sound.

Climactic moments from movement three, three times as slow as before is simply a reframing of music you have already heard.

The warp and woof refers to the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (woof) threads that together create the texture and foundation of a woven fabric. It is a fitting end for a piece that imagines the framing of musical content to be as integral to the structure of a work as the way that content is framed.



The San Francisco Symphony played my piece Dispatches four times on their first subscription series of the 2015-16 season. This was the culmination of the "New Voices Residency," a partnership of the SFS with Miami's New World Symphony, and the music publisher Boosey & Hawkes. It was through this program that I was commissioned twice - for an orchestral work and a chamber work - to be workshopped and premiered in Miami and then given a hefty West Coast premiere in San Francisco. 

Writing for a full orchestra - and working with a group of laser-focused professionals like the SFS - is an ongoing journey for me, and in many respects I still feel like a fish out of water. I didn't grow up playing an orchestral instrument, and of course most of the music I listen to currently isn't something you'd hear in an orchestra hall. Part of the reason for writing Dispatches was to grapple with this distance.

[I talked a little bit about this in an interview with I Care If You Listen, which you can read here.]

with conductor Christian Reif

with conductor Christian Reif

There are times when Dispatches calls to mind the nostalgia of a composer like Alfred Schnittke, with his heartbroken invocations of a musical past that is beyond recovery. The difference is that the gap that interests Hearne is stylistic, not chronological — and that he shows it to be bridgeable after all.
— Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

Read Joshua Kosman's review of the San Francisco's premiere performance of Dispatches in the San Francisco Chronicle




ensemble Erykah Badu, three female backup singers, 40-piece orchestra with rhythm section
duration 50 minutes
commissioned by Brooklyn Philharmonic, Alan Pierson, artistic director
premiere June 7, 2013, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

notes You're Causing Quite a Disturbance weaves together original music by Ted Hearne and arrangements of songs from Erykah Badu's 2008 album New Amerykah: Part One into an evening­-length work. Badu performed this work in June 2013 with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, under the direction of Alan Pierson, in two sold-out nights at BAM. 


"Erykah Badu didn’t move much in the time she spent onstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House, in front of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and a rhythm section. She stood next to the conductor Alan Pierson in a top hat, high-heel boots, blue tights, heavy necklace, and a long coat, which she never took off. She occasionally made a slow, alert swivel toward the backup singers on her right, with a look of approval. Once she turned 90 degrees and methodically played a solo on a theremin, at her left. That was about it.....

"Mr. Hearne wrote material to complement six tracks from the record — “Amerykhan Promise,” “The Healer,” “Soldier,” “Master Teacher,” “Twinkle” and “Me” — as well as four interludes and compositions in themselves. His arrangements weren’t perfunctory, or there to class up the funk; they had rich harmony and tonal range and pulsation. You heard suspense­movie stabs, a high and stringent violin feature (played by Debbie Buck), sets of great pastoral chords with strings advancing to the front of the sound­mass and bending them toward slight dissonance. Or you heard new sounds written to complement old material — like the strings in Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 “Freddie’s Dead,” which were already cut up and fragmented in New Amerykah’s version of “Master Teacher” by the producers Shafiq Husayn and Georgia Ann Muldrow." 

-Ben Ratliff, The New York Times (6.9.13) read the whole article here
Erykah Badu with Ted Hearne and Alan Pierson

Erykah Badu with Ted Hearne and Alan Pierson



'The answer to the question that wings ask'
for Saul Williams and MIVOS

The vital [Mivos Quartet] embraces toothy modernism with punk-rock verve.
— The New York Times
Hip hop’s poet laureate.
— CNN on Saul Williams

On April 26, 2016,  I returned to the Twin Cities' bold Liquid Music series for the premiere of The Answer to the Question That Wings Ask: a new piece I've written for the MIVOS Quartet and Saul Williams. This is a dream project in many ways. I'd worked with the MIVOS crew many times in many settings, but had never composed a piece for them and have been long searching for the perfect project that could help make that happen. Saul Williams is an artist I've admired from afar but never met or worked with before. He speaks so musically and sings with insanely powerful language:


The Answer to the Question That Wings Ask is an incredible poem of Saul's. My piece incorporates his words into an interactive piece for Saul to perform with the quartet, where the five musicians share and shift responsibilities for setting and maintaining flow and pulse. You can read more about this project in an interview with JP Merz here

Saul Williams and the Mivos Quartet have continued to perform this work around the world as part of an evening of collaborative works, including music by Jace Clayton and Thomas Kessler. 

The Answer to the Questions That Wings Ask
by Saul Williams


Is it a quest
for celebrity?


A desire to be seen
as one who counts?

To be among
the counted?

 A limited number
of seats given to some
denied to others.

The latest American religion, taking off where
left off?

The Great
Mind Control.

The belief
you can become.

The belief
that you can know?

Is it a matter
of cultivating envy?

Making others wish
they could have
what you have,

 live the life you live? 

The God of those
who beat the odds.

Cultivating talent?

10,000 hours?

Cultivating ideas
or exploiting them?

Thinking of what others
have not thought of?

Making communication easier.

Exploiting the unknown?

Fulfilling people’s
unwanted desires?


Making them feel
they can't live without
something they have
always lived without?

Is it self-actualization
or self-image actualization?

Is it the desire
to see one's name in print
or in lights?

Do the successful
escape the everyday travails
of worry, disappointment,
debt, and doubt?




Is it about self-sacrifice
or having to sacrifice nothing?

Is it about changing
the times in which we live?

Exercising compassion through entrepreneurial individualism?

Striking gold?
Being of service?

The Golden Rule?

Divine intentions?

Raising families that
share those intentions?

Is it more about
ambitions than intentions?

Setting a goal?

Having a drive?


Are we acting out
a sexual fantasy?

To control?

To dominate?

To be controlled?

To be dominated?

Is it about

Described and prescribed
patterns of thought?

a structure,
a framework?

Are we talking
to ourselves?

Are we addicted?

Cultivating addiction?

Should we replace
weed with tobacco,
or tobacco with weed?

Water with wine,
wine with water?

Sugar with
honey or agave?

Meat with tofu?

Ridding ourselves
of toxins, is that it?

Ridding ourselves
of the unwanted,
the undesirable,
the unhealthy?

Are your thoughts
simply an echo
of how you feel?

Are your feelings
as good as thoughts?

Can you distinguish
between the two?

What is the purpose?


Does that solve
the problem?

What is
the problem?
What is
the question?

Will how I ask
the question,
the answer?

What time is it?

Who set
the clock?

Who coded/decoded time?

Are there
different ways
of keeping it?

What is
the standard?

What is the
guiding principle?

Get rid of fear?

Every individual
knows what it feels like.

Everyone is wrapped
in their own emotions,
beliefs, timelines, and connections.

You can make
as much sense of it
as you wish, or retreat
into your shell
of beliefs and disbeliefs.

Will you observe,
take action, build,
contribute, sit back,
doubt, grow fat
through comfort
or through worry?

What if nothing
you are convinced of
is actually the case?

What if it works
the way it does
in your presence
because it's what
you expect of it?

What if the truth
is not enough?

What if it is not
enough to be sincere
in your actions and deeds?

If you must also
learn to listen
and not blame?

To see your own faults
and not list those
of others?

What if
the other
is a lie?

If nothing is original,
Unique, or without purpose?

What if it means
that you must sometimes
sit in silence and not
defend yourself?

What if you are
not alone
and alone,

unable to see
the reason or understand,
and your understanding
in all of its glory
manages to still
get in the way?

What if your mind
works against you?

What if it is simply
not your time

and the stars
are right where
they belong for it all
to make sense?

And if you choose
not to believe it?

What if you are
too tired to write
or think and the music
is too loud to concentrate
or fall asleep?

what if when you
turn off the music,
your mind starts
to orchestrate the silence

and every creak of wood

the wind through trees

the call of birds

Your heartbeat

is enough
to dance?





I am currently working with Saul on the libretto for a new project -- an evening-length piece directed by Patricia McGregor -- commissioned by the LA Philharmonic, to be premiered by the Phil with Gustavo Dudamel conducting in April 2018. More information here. 




OUTLANDERS is an album of songs near and dear to my heart that I started writing in 2008, which came into focus during my first residency at The MacDowell Colony in 2009, and which I adapted and recorded with some of my best musician friends over the course of the next 6 years.

They're mostly love songs. And they're a record of the ways I was working through the tensions between compositional hybridity and clear, direct songwriting.

The core group of musicians involved is:

Nathan Koci, keyboards/vocals/occasionally French horn (which he plays way better than anyone who never practices should play that instrument)
Ron Wiltrout, drums
Taylor Levine, electric guitar
Leah Coloff, cello

Some tunes involve much larger forces, including Timo Andres on piano, Miki Cloud and Caroline Shaw on violin, Erin Wight (viola), Eileen Mack (clarinets), Matthew Wright (trombone), Chris Coletti (trumpet), Michelle Farah (oboe), Kelli Kathman (flute) and Kris Saebo (bass).

Eventually, I combined this into an album produced by Philip White.

Outlanders was released on New Amsterdam Records in February 2016, with gorgeous album art from Gabriela Salazar.



A new program brings together high-school students from different communities to discuss equity and social justice and to attend a live performance of Katrina Ballads

This educational initiative, created and led by music education professor and researcher Colleen Sears (Eastman School of Music, Columbia University), consists of a 2½-hour discussion group in which students engage with an interdisciplinary, multi-media curriculum that explores issues of race and class, media literacy, and the politics of crisis through the lens of two pieces of art: Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke, and Ted Hearne’s oratorio Katrina Ballads. This gathering is followed by a live performanceof Ted Hearne’s oratorio Katrina Ballads, and artist talkback/Q&A. 

2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm forced the nation to engage with issues of race, socioeconomic status, climate change and sustainability in a raw and emotionally charged way. As a new generation of Americans confronts the challenges of an unequal society, it becomes all the more important to critically examine the ways in which the events of Katrina revealed, altered and/or magnified perceptions about race and socioeconomic status in this country. Through dynamic partnerships with ensembles and presenting organizations, we hope to bring this exciting and challenging initiative to cities across the country.

David Vickerman  leads a performance of "Katrina Ballads" as part of an educational social justice initiative at The College of New Jersey in March 2015.

David Vickerman leads a performance of "Katrina Ballads" as part of an educational social justice initiative at The College of New Jersey in March 2015.

Through direct aesthetic experience with music and video, students are called to consider challenging questions:

  • What happened during Hurricane Katrina? 
  • How did Katrina reveal, alter or magnify perceptions about race and socioeconomic status here in the United States?
  • What have we learned about (in)justice as a result?
  • How does Katrina force us to engage with ideas about truth, fairness, equality, opportunity, generosity, love?
  • Who decides what truth will be told?
  • What are the rights of citizens?
  • Which populations were affected by the storm? 

The culminating performance of Katrina Ballads completes the students’ experience, illustrating how music and art can be used as social commentary that is relevant to current national and global issues, and a catalyst for powerful discussions about equity, access and social justice.


Ted Hearne’s acclaimed 2008 oratorio Katrina Ballads uses as its libretto primary-source texts from the week surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Aired on national media and immediately archived forever on the internet, these are the words of survivors, relief workers, politicians and celebrities, interspersed as an emotional and journalistic song cycle. Featuring four singers and a mixed chamber ensemble of 11 musicians, Hearne’s music combines elements of many different musical styles into a compelling hybrid, challenging both expectations about the sounds and purposes of contemporary music, and our relationships to genre in art.

The hour-long performance of Katrina Ballads is accompanied by devastating and haunting film by renowned filmmaker Bill Morrison. This work, shown concurrently with the music, manipulates news clips and source footage of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after the hurricane into a visual world that is both slowly undulating in its texture and highly narrative.

Katrina Ballads is the recipient of the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize for composition. The work was premiered at the 2007 Piccolo Spoleto Festival in a production by Yes is a World and Charleston's New Music Collective, received its New York premiere in 2008, and was included in the New York City Opera's 2009 VOX Festival.

A full recording of the work was released on New Amsterdam Records (with distribution through Naxos of America) in August 2010, and garnered rave reviews including a place on The Top 10 Classical Albums of 2010 of The Washington Post and Time Out Chicago.

A new theatrical production of the work featuring film by Bill Morrison, from Beth Morrison Productions, was premiered at New York's (le) Poisson Rouge and at the Hobby Center in Houston, Texas. The New York Times called this performance "barnstorming... [with a] tough edge and wildness of spirit."


 Dr. Colleen Sears is an assistant professor and the coordinator of music education at The College of New Jersey. Dr. Sears also leads curriculum development and interdisciplinary programming for The College of New Jersey’s Institute for Social Justice in the Arts and Humanities. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from The College of New Jersey, a Master of Arts from the Eastman School of Music and a Doctor of Education in music education from Teachers College, Columbia University.  

Dr. Sears’ research explores issues of equity and access in music education.  She focuses on uncovering and examining stereotypes and transparent, oppressive power structures that exist inside the music classroom and within the professional community.  Her research on gender issues in music education has been published in Music Education Research, GEMS (Gender, Education, Music, Society), Tempo Magazine, and The Woman Conductor.  Her work has recently been presented at the 2015 NAfME Eastern Division Conference, the 2015 Colloquium for Teachers of Instrumental Music Methods, the 2015 Music Education as Social, Political, and Cultural Action MayDay Group Colloquium, and at the 2014 American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting.


Katrina Ballads Educational Initiative is a lean and flexible program that does not require many resources to implement. We will work collaboratively with the educational outreach contact from your presenting organization to enhance the Katrina Ballads performance with this innovative program.

stills from Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke"


Coloring Book (2015, 30 min.)

Coloring Book (2015, 30 min.)

Colorado Public Radio hosts Roomful of Teeth in the CPR Performance Studio on January 17, 2017. Letter to My Father (in three parts), the fourth movement from COLORING BOOK by Ted Hearne

Coloring Book

ensemble vocal octet (SSAATBBB)
duration 30 minutes
written for Roomful of Teeth
commission Barlow Endowment for Music Composition
premiere October 2015, SONiC Festival, Brooklyn NY
publisher Unsettlement Music
recording coming soon

They will never, so long as their whiteness puts so sinister a distance between themselves and their own experience and the experience of others, feel themselves sufficiently human, sufficiently worthwhile, to become responsible for themselves, their leaders, their country, their children, or their fate.
— James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Y. Davis” (1970)

notes Coloring Book is a collection of 5 songs for the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth. We workshopped the music as part of Teeth's 2-week residency at Mass MoCA in August 2015, and premiered it in October 2015 at National Sawdust as part of the SONiC Festival. Roomful of Teeth is touring the piece in 2017, and a recording is coming soon.

I set the words of three great black American writers of different generations (Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Claudia Rankine) in texts dealing with identity, not because I could ever pretend to speak for them, but because I wanted to know: Could I better understand their words by speaking them in my own voice? Could I better understand my own perspective -- my own identity, my whiteness, my relationship to racism -- by appropriating the perspective of someone different? What are the boundaries that separate me from not-me? And what does it mean to hold myself apart?

I talked a little more about the process of writing this piece and the idea of creative appropriation in this interview.


1. The game of keeping
    [The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult.]
No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat.
No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed.
    [The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.]                                          

Zora Neale Hurston
from “How it feels to be colored me” (1928)

2. You are not the guy
And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.

Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same. Flashes, a sired, the stretched-out roar—

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description
still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.

This is what it looks like. You know this is wrong. This is not what it looks like. You need to be quiet. This is wrong. You need to close your mouth now. This is what it looks like. You can’t drive yourself sane. You are not the guy.

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description. Get on the ground now. Then I just knew.

Yes officer rolled around on my tongue, which grew out of a bell that could never ring because its emergency was a tolling I was meant to swallow.
Claudia Rankine
from Citizen (2014)

3. What feels
What feels more than feeling?
You are afraid there is something you are missing, something obvious.
A feeling that feelings might be irrelevant if they point to one’s irrelevance
pulls at you.
What feels more than feeling?

Claudia Rankine
from Citizen (2014)

4. Letter to my father
Him. He
He has only heard what I
I felt. He
He is far away but I
I see him.
Him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us.
Us. He
He is so pale with his whiteness then and I
I am so colored.
Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him.
He is so pale with his whiteness then and I
I am so colored.

Zora Neale Hurston
from “How it feels to be colored me” (1928)

5. Your people
Your self and your people are indistinguishable from each other,
really, in spite of the quarrels you may have,
and your people are all people.

James Baldwin
 from an interview with James Elgrably in The Paris Review (1984)



Place (2018, 80 min.)
18 instruments, 6 voices
Sound from the Bench (2014/2017, 40 min.)
mixed choir with 2 electric guitars and percussion
Coloring Book (for Roomful of Teeth) (2015, 30 min.)
vocal octet
The Source (2014, 65 min.)
7 instruments, 4 voices
Partition (2010, 20 min.)
mixed choir with full orchestra
Katrina Ballads (2007, 60 min.)
11 instruments, 5 voices


Brass Tacks (2018, 6 min.)
large orchestra
Miami in Movements (2017, 35 min.)
large orchestra with video
Dispatches (2015, 18 min.)
large orchestra
Respirator (2015, 13 min.)
chamber orchestra
Stem (2013, 25 min.)
large orchestra
Law of Mosaics (2012, 30 min.)
string orchestra
Erasure Scherzo (2012, 6 min.)
large orchestra
Word for Word (2011, 10 min.)
large orchestra
Shizz (2010/2017, 4 min.)
versions for large orchestra and chamber orchestra
Build a Room (2010, 20 min.)
concerto for trumpet and orchestra
Patriot (2007, 9 min.)
large orchestra


DaVZ23BzMH0 (2016, 7 min.)
solo cello, with electronics
Parlor Diplomacy (2011, 20 min.)
solo piano
Nobody's (2010, 4 min.)
solo violin


(2-5 instruments)

Exposure (2017, 18 min.)
string quartet
To Be the Thing (2017, 10 min.)
voice, electric guitar and percussion, with live electronics
The Answer to the Question That Wings Ask (2016, 11 min.)
string quartet and narrator
Furtive Movements (2013, 14 min.)
cello and percussion
Interlude for Fingers (2013, 4 min.)
two vibraphones
Candy (2011, 8 min.)
electric guitar quartet
Thaw (2009, 12 min.)
percussion quartet
Ghostspace (2009, 8 min.)
mixed quartet (accordion, electric guitar, piano, drums)
Vessels (2008, 10 min.)
trio (violin, viola, piano)
Crib Dweller (2007, 8 min.)
mixed quintet (bass clarinet, elec. guitar, trumpet, trombone, horn)
23 (2005, 8 min.)
mixed quintet (flute, horn, elec. guitar, piano, drums)
Warning Song (2006, 7 min.)
voice and cello, with electronics
One of Us, One of Them (2005, 8 min.)
piano and percussion
Forcefield (2004, 5 min.)
viola and vibraphone

(6-13 instruments)

One Like (2016, 7 min.)
14 musicians
For the Love of Charles Mingus (2016, 9 min.)
6 violins
Baby [an argument] (2016, 11 min.)
10 musicians
By-By Huey (2014, 10 min.)
sextet (fl, bcl, vln, vc, pno, perc)
"The Cage" Variations (2014, 20 min.)
6 instruments (fl, cl/bcl, vln, vc, pno, perc) with baritone solo
Crispy Gentlemen (2012, 15 min.)
7 instruments (fl/picc, cl/bcl, vln, vla, vc, pno, perc)
But I Voted for Shirley Chisholm (2012, 8 min.)
11 instruments+tape
Randos (2012, 8 min.)
7 instruments (L'Histoire septet)
Cutest Little Arbitrage (2011, 12 min.)
6 instruments (2 sax, trombone + rhythm section)
Is it Dirty (2010, 8 min.)
16 instruments with 2 singers
versions for 10 instruments and 6 instruments
Eyelid Margin (2009, 12 min.)
10 instruments (brass quintet + 5 double-reeds)
Snowball (2008, 6 min.)
8 instruments (bcl, tpt, tbn, vln, acc, egtr, pno, dr)
version for 7 instruments (bcl, bn, tpt, tbn, vln, db, perc)
Illuminating the Maze (2008/2016, 15 min.)
6 instruments (tpt, hn, tbn, egtr, pno, dr)
version for 11 instruments
Music from "Body Soldiers" (2008, 10 min.)
5 instruments + singer
Cordavi and Fig (2007, 8 min.)
13 instruments
Antiphon (2003, 8 min.)
9 instruments (3 cl, bcl, 3 tpt, tbn, pno)


Animals (2018, 9 min.)
Fervor (2018, 3 min.)
What it might say (2016, 5 min.)
Coloring Book (2015, 30 min.)
Consent (2014, 7 min.)
Ripple (2012, 10 min.)
Privilege (2009, 14 min.)
Mass for St. Mary’s (2008, 10 min.)

Music for youth choir:
Room for Something (2011, 8 min.)
Away (2010, 6 min.)
Because (2006, 6 min.)
Murder on the Road in Alabama (2003, 6 min.)


Like Glass (Dorothea Lasky songs) (2017-19)
voice and ensemble; versions for voice and piano
To Be the Thing (2017, 10 min.)
voice, electric guitar and percussion, with live electronics
Intimacy and Resistance (2010, 5 min.)
voice and piano
Charleston Songbook (2008, 20 min.)
voice and piano w/ lead sheets
I Remember (2007, 8 min.)
for three sopranos, or one soprano with electronics
I Carry Your Heart (2007, 5 min.)
voice and piano
Warning Song (2006, 7 min.)
voice and cello, with electronics


We Are Radios (2018)
Miami in Movements (2017)
The Answer to the Question That Wings Ask (2016,)
Hand Eye (2015)
New Dances for the League of David (2014) 
You're Causing Quite a Disturbance (2013)
R WE WHO R WE (2013)
Histories (2012)