All Flesh is Grass, for SATB voices, a cappella
Robert Maggio, who I count as one of my finest musical mentors, once said that he finds that the process of composing is more about discovering than creating. It’s not about making up something new so much as it is about finding something that was already there. In his invaluable On Writing, Stephen King talks about unearthing a story like it’s a fossil, and the process of writing is really about finding the story and bringing along the right tools to keep it intact.
If this is the case, and I believe wholeheartedly that it is, then it only makes sense that some pieces would be discovered quickly, like they’re stumbled upon, while others would take time and dedication to uncover. And to be honest, I’ve had both experiences. There are some pieces I’ve finished in a matter of hours, while others have taken years to assemble.
All Flesh is Grass is, without a doubt, an example of the composition that is discovered quickly, in one piece, completely intact. I wish I had an exciting story to tell about writing it, but I simply don't. I was lent a book of poetry by Christina Rossetti, I read “All Flesh is Grass” — which happened to be on the first page I turned to, and I heard the music in my head immediately. I sat down at a piano, put it on paper in a little over an hour, and it was done. That first draft was my final draft, and the piece has remained unchanged since then.
I am always surprised by the affect that that hour at a piano has had on my life. Almost immediately after it was published, the sales for All Flesh is Grass completely eclipsed those of my previous publication, Missa Brevis, and I started getting feedback about it. It has been performed at schools and churches, at funerals and graduations, nationally and internationally. Even now, after more than ten years, I get emails about how much it has meant to someone, or how it helped someone through a difficult situation. This reception is something I never expected, and it feels like something I can barely take credit for.
In lieu of a traditional recording, I’ve attached a YouTube video of a performance. I didn’t own the video, and I have no rights to it. That being said, it is among the finest performances of the piece that I’ve heard, beautiful singing aided by wonderful acoustics.
All Flesh is Grass is published by Mark Foster Music and is available wherever fine sheet music is sold, such as J. W. Pepper.