Music Projects

Fin de Siècle

There is a lot of information about this piece in the News section of this website.

The Flash Choir

The Flash Choir was founded in July 2007 in the service of the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s Time Based Art Festival’s opening celebration piece, composed by Rinde Eckert. Following this performance, there was a sustained interest by participants to continue singing experimental music, and so the Flash Choir was founded by Sarah Dougher and Pat Janowski. Sarah serves as the artistic director and chief composer, and Pat serves as the music director.

Flash Choir performsThe Flash Choir has, in the past, met weekly. We are now on hiatus. We welcome all skill levels and ages. Please contact for more details, or to join our mailing list.

More information about the choir

Informative article about the choir

The Flash Choir was featured on the first Builders and Butchers record; In June 2008, we helped rededicate Patton Park on Interstate Avenue; In April 2008, we collaborated with the Portland Cello Project for a celebration at the Oregon Arts Summit; In March, 2008 we greeted spring with song in three parks. The Choir has premiered three works by Sarah Dougher: Caesar’s Gate, Strangers Together, and Replenish and Thirst.

October 2010

Replenish and Thirst

Commission, Multnomah County Library in honor of Paulann Petersen’s new role as Oregon’s Poet Laureate. Two poems set for SATB choir and piano, Replenish and Thirst.

Inquiries about use of this music, please contact Sarah directly at

Videos (with very substandard sound quality):





Your eyes must stay open
To the color of flowers.
Wherever their bright flash
Catches your gaze, water flows.

You see rain
Days after it stopped raining.
In your breath, you taste
the river running underground.


Last night the rain held me under
A roof of sound. The night long
Rain hung its murmur over my sleep.
Dreams came and fled, each
A night-opening bloom
That shut itself back into bud
before morning arrived.

My breath and heartbeat followed
A simple-minded routine,
In, out, pull, give way.
Part of me grew
A little more of me sank,
The lost were mostly replaced.
Rain fed whatever was mine.


Strangers Together

Music for the poetry of William Stafford

This piece, made up of ten songs, was composed in 2009 and performed throughout that year and into 2010.

Strangers Together: Music for the poetry of William StaffordI became acquainted with William Stafford’s poetry through his son, Kim Stafford, who was my writing teacher in 1990. In the twenty intervening years this poetry has communicated to me a deep and resonant connection between nature, human beings, and something I could call the “divine.”

This piece, Strangers Together, is a collection of ten songs from the volume Passwords. I chose these poems to set to song because they nearly all call forth place, and then connect it to human beings through the quiet quotidian. There is much to rejoice in this.

A choir, which has its cultural home in a church, seemed like a fitting voice for this celebration. Certain human experiences, from childish faith to mortality’s unwavering stare, make Stafford’s work, and these poems in particular, pulsing and alive for me.


Strangers Together
from Passwords by William Stafford

Reading with Little Sister: A Recollection
The stars have died overhead in their great cold.
Beneath us the sled whispers along Back there
Our mother is gone. They tell us, “If you hold on
The dogs will take you home.” And they tell us never
To cry. We’ll die, too, they say, if we
are ever afraid. All night we hold on.
The stars go down. We are never afraid.

The Dream of Now
When you wake to this dream of now
From a night and its other dream,
You carry day out of the dark
Like a flame.

When spring comes north, and flowers
unfold from the earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.

Your life you live by the light you find
And follow it on as well as you can,
Carrying through darkness wherever you
Your one little fire that will start again.

Trying to Tell It
The old have a secret.
They can’t tell others, for to understand
You have to be old.

You need that soft velvet over your ears
And the blessing of time in your hands.
Any challenging sound has a bell at the end.

The vista you heard on a phone all your life
Has moved into your head,
Where it lures you to listen away.

The secret is wrapped in a message you begin
To hear even in silence
And at night it wakes you and calls.

The secret is told to you by touches
That spread a thin layer of understanding
Again and again, a hint, another: conviction.

You can’t see it or hear it but it’s there,
Like a live wire, a power inside things,
An art, a fantasy.

You have always wanted more than the earth;
Now you have it. You turn to the young.
They do not understand.

You Don’t Know the End

Even as you are dying, a part of the world
Can be your own – – a badger taught me that,
With its foot in a trap on the bank of the Cimarron.

I offered the end of stick near the lowered head:
Space turned into a dream that other thing s had
And four long grooves appeared on that hard wood.

My part that day was to learn. It wasn’t folklore
I saw, or what anyone said, when I looked
Far, past miles around me:

Wherever I went, a new life had begun,
Hidden in grass, or waiting beyond the trees.
There is a spirit abiding in everything.

Climbing Along the River
Willows never forget how it feels
To be young.

Do you remember where you came from?
Gravel remembers.

Even the upper end of the river
Believes in the ocean.

Exactly at midnight
Yesterday sighs away.

What I believe is,
All animals have one soul.

Over the land they love
They crisscross forever.

The Gospel is Whatever Happens
When we say, “Breath,”
A feather starts to fly,
To be itself.
When we talk, truth
Is what we mean to say.

A weather vane is
Courteous and accurate:
The more it yields,
The more wind lies
Where it points the way.

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
And come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven’t let that happen, but after
I’m gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
And without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
To be a discoverer you hold close whatever
You find, and after a while you decide
What it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
You turn to the open sea and let go.

The thing is, I’m still
An animal. What is a spirit,
I wonder. But I only wonder:
I’ll never know.

Night comes and I’m hungry.
Tempted by anything, or called
By my peculiar appetites,
I turn aside, faithfully.

What comes before me
Transforms into my life.
“Truth,” I say, and it answers,
“I’m what you need.”

I sing, and a song shaped like a bird
Flies out of my mouth.

Something to Declare
They have never had a war big enough
To slow that pulse in the earth under
Our path near that old river.

Even as a swallow swims through the air
A certain day skips and returns, hungry for
The feel and lift of the time passed by.

That was the place where I lived awhile
Dragging a wing, and the spin of the world
Started its tilt into where it is now.

They say that history is going on somewhere.
They say it won’t stop. I have held
One picture still for a long time and waited.

This is only a little report floated
Into the slow current so the wind will know
Which way to come if it wants to find me.

Any island, or a break in the weather,
Or resting awhile under
Bridges or by a rock in the sun –
These offer themselves.
You know these intervals allowed,
Moment by moment, lost
In the large parade of the days.

Even a hesitation while a door
Opens can balloon
And then there’s an arch with
All you need, sheltered there.
All through your life.
Island by island.


Caesar’s Gate

Caesar’s Gate is a choral piece commissioned by the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College to celebrate the exhibit, Jess: To and From the Printed Page, (images here) an immersive exhibition including painting, sculpture, collage, book arts and ephemera by the seminal Beat Generation artist Jess Collins, known as “Jess” (1923-2004) ()

The piece was debuted by the Flash Choir on July 19th, 2008, at the Reed College Chapel, featuring Marisa Anderson on guitar. The performance was be followed by a talk by poetry scholar Steve Dickison, and a reception in the Cooley Gallery, featuring the music of Tim DuRoche.  The piece was also performed in September of 2008 at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s TBA festival, and again in the spring of 2009 at Mississippi Studios.

Here is a review of the performance

Video: Caesar’s Gate, Part 5 on Vimeo.

About the piece:

Ceasar's Gate coverThe book, Caesar’s Gate, was the first collaboration between long-time partners Jess and the poet Robert Duncan. A small volume of poetry and collage, it was first published in 1955, and explores identity formation, passages, gay sexuality, and shifting perspectives. Subsequently published in 1972 with extensive new prologue and epilogue, the volume took on a self-reflective quality in which Duncan addresses the problem of the early work (and the early self) in the view of the mature poet. The libretto, excerpted by Sarah Dougher, includes both passages from these later additions, as well as poems from the original volume. The piece is scored for SATB choir and electric guitar.

About the exhibit:

Jess: To and From the Printed Page focuses on Jess’s relationship with printed material, as food and inspiration for his literary, esoteric vision, and his rich, ongoing collaborations with literary figures such as Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Denise Levertov. The exhibition presents numerous bodies of interrelated works, some of which have never before been shown together in public. With over fifty original works of art, and more than thirty items of ephemera, dated between 1952 and 1994, the exhibition includes collages that the artist made for publication—books, magazines and other printed formats in which they were reproduced, as well as paintings, drawings, sculptures, a film, and an early sound recording.




This land, where I stand, was all legend
in my grandfathers’ time: cattle raiders,
animal tribes, priests, gold.
It was the West

From the Preface, July 1955

… To this point I came, willingly demoralized, to pray for grief or for sleep, or for the tides of blood for the worm to turn. …

The Crowns
The flower of life opens, falls into its seeds. In whose orders, Adam falls into his selves and over and over again, we, you and I, all of you and all of me, flower into whatever place and time of being and fall apart into ourselves

…To be a crown…  that is all miserable, all glorious, all failure, all victory, all joy

Lorca (1972)

How intense and troubled this boundary becomes as it marks the outline of our true selves! In the area of what we would abhor, it is like the bound’ry of an empire, held by threatened forces. For each projection of outline, belongs to and distinguishes the identity of the abhorred, even as it marks our own.

What is it that you’ve come to tell me?

Ultimately the good reason of our refusal to censor or correct is that we seek not to get rid of what embarrasses us, or what does not seem true to our lights, but to go on beyond embarrassment, beyond shame or disgust or outrage; to imagine in another light, to see in a larger sight, what we had rather was dismissed from view.

The Second Night of the Week
Now I have come to Caesar’s Gate.

And the Spirit there, tired and raging,
who walks like a beast walks
the circumference of his cage, said –
Thing upon the meaning of my rage.

By Whom do you swear
that you return to this place?

I have come to the Gate,
tired, tired as Asia,
and as rage-full, awake
as if there will not be no sleep,

sleep being a secret in this place.

O Alexander! O Conqueror of the Wastes!

Bon Voyage

O poem of the heart’s dismay
the universe returns in to the sea, a
flower closes in to a cup, whatever we
knew then we have erased, embracing
a new faith as easily as the moon
embraces her fullness
Having a good time. Wish you were
here. THE END is in view. And we
sail helplessly happy into the light
cloud of our conceald fury. The eye
sails toward the end, casting its lines
toward its own vanishing point.
No more. No more
O poem of the rising tower,
of the ravages of victory.
Beyond our rapture there is.
No more. We have come to. O.


To Run With the Hare and Hunt With the Hound

Love, he said, is everywhere.
It makes the whirrld go round

The lack of Love will stop the show
and make the world stand still. Stop.

The luck of Love is Mary-go round
and overcomes the Will.

Love, he said, is valueless.
It eats like a merry worm

upon the greenness of the leaf
and makes the greenness turn.

It spins around its own cocoon.
Out of the Earth emerges the Moon.

shedding the shreds of its belief.

Love, he said, is the heart’s cocoon
from which emerges a winged grief.

Great GRIEF, then, herself!
an old hand at the game.


Moving in your sights
I am a true target,
Self-conscious bulls-eye of myself.

Despair in Being Tedious

A long way back I look and I find myself
As I was then I am, a circling man
In a seizure of talk that he hears too as he goes on

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