Of Being Is a Bird

From Wind Repertory Project
Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas

General Info

Year: 2015
Duration: c. 15:10
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: G. Schirmer, through Wise Music Classical
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - Rental


1. Of being is a bird -5:00
2. Interlude: flock of birds – 3:40
3. The most triumphant bird I ever knew or met – 6:20


Full Score
Flute I-II (doubling Piccolo and Alto Flute)
B-flat Soprano Clarinet
Horn in F
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V, including:

  • Crotales (6)
  • Brass Mallets (4)

Violin I-II


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Augusta Read Thomas has walked a path -- or flown -- with Emily Dickinson before, in Sunlight Echoes for youth choir and youth orchestra (2002) and Gathering Paradise, a song cycle for soprano and symphony orchestra (2004). This new piece is a pair of bird songs -- bird songs that indeed have to do with bird songs, with the songs that birds themselves make, but more, as the title poem indicates, with bird being, with how birds are and also with how birdlike -- n flight -- being is. After all, the singing here is done by a human being, and by a specific human being, for, the composer tells us, she "listened to every recording of Claire Booth I could find and took note of the colour of every pitch in her vocal range."

Those colours wind through constantly changing textures of instrumental hue in the opening song, where voice and instruments are forever echoing one another, though only the voice, for the most part, has the long line. If any of the instruments is to the fore, it is perhaps the harp, which, to quote the composer, "provides a kind of golden thread throughout the piece in counterpoint with the solo soprano." The harmonies, too, are constantly on the move, adjusting to the vocal line while keeping the music afloat and luminous. We might be hearing the clouds of which the poem speaks, or the easy breeze, or the ‘Wake of Music’, all with a snatch of bird song.

Of Being is a Bird
The likest to the Down
An Easy Breeze do put afloat
The General Heavens — upon —
It soars — and shifts — and whirls —
And measures with the Clouds
In easy — even — dazzling pace —
No different the Birds —
Except a Wake of Music
Accompany their feet —
As did the Down emit a Tune —
For Ecstasy — of it

- Program Note by Paul Griffith

Commissioned by the Wigmore Hall, with the support of André Hoffmann, president of the Foundation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation.

- Program Note from publisher


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Washington (Seattle) Wind Ensemble (Timothy Salzman, conductor; Carrie Shaw, soprano) - 30 May 2023

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • August Read Thomas website Accessed 30 May 2023
  • Thomas, A.; Dickinson, E. (2015). Of Being Is a Bird: Emily Dickensin Settings: For Light Lyric Soprano and Ensemble [score]. G. Schirmer: New York, N.Y.