Instrumentation SATB choir a cappella or with piano

Timing 6’15”

Composed 2000

Text by Jeffrey Ryan

Commissioned by Soundstreams Canada with the assistance of the Laidlaw Foundation

World Premiere November 5, 2000, Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario. Combined choirs from the University of Victoria, the University of Alberta, the University of Manitoba, and Memorial University of Newfoundland; Robert Sund, conductor

Programme Notes

When talking about music, we often borrow words from visual art to describe sounds. We speak of orchestral “colours,” of “brightness” or “darkness,” and so on. I often think of orchestrators as “colourists” and one of the things that interests me as a composer is to focus on the transformation of colours within a piece of music.

In searching for a subject for this short choral work, I found myself turning to my fascination with colours. I find it so intriguing that, just as each of us hears a piece of music uniquely, we similarly have no way of knowing whether we all see exactly the same thing when we look at a particular colour. In this sense, the piece celebrates the experience of both the individual and the collective, as it celebrates the gathering of individuals into a collective musical unit.

And so, Paint the Light is inspired by colour, particularly the continuum between black and white, and the idea that black is created by the complete absorption of light while white is created by the complete reflection of light. The initial state of blackness is not a void, but rather a storehouse for the many colours of light, or perhaps it can be thought of as “potential light.” In the course of the piece, a panoply of different colours is added to the black until, full to bursting, it explodes into white light.

Paint the Light also evokes the image of the artist’s palette, covered in daubs of colour, which are swirled and mixed together ‹ colours that come alive in a constant state of motion. The text is essentially a series of different colour names and other colour-related words ‹ each word chosen more for its rhythm and sound quality than for a logical progression of dark to light, or to create groupings of like colours. The initial slow section gradually accelerates into the main dancing tempo, which explores different registers and vocal combinations as the music methodically rises higher and higher.


Paint the Light created much vivid imagery as it explored the nature of colour and motion. It was a lean, muscular and demanding choral thesaurus that always maintained accessibility while the music toyed with dislocated rhythm, mesmerizing repeated passages and scalar leaps. [Conductor Robert] Sund needed only 150 shock troops to bring out its crafty contrasts. (Geoff Chapman/Toronto Star)

PDF perusal score

Paint the Light a cap perusal

Paint the Light pno perusal

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