Nativity of the Isles (SATB a cappella + soloist)

I. Ave Maris Stella
II. Who Is She
III. Many a Thing Have I Seen / Bless This Creature Water
IV. We Found the Maiden Walking
V. This Is the Grey Manger

Nativity of the Isles (2017) is dedicated to the memory of Alan and Ghalib Kurdi, and the 28 million children displaced in the world today. The choral cycle reflects upon past and current refugee crises through the story of the first Nativity, as the Holy Family fled for safety from political violence. With a mixture of ancient prayers and texts derived from the Carmina Gadelica of Alexander Carmichael, it develops melodic ideas from folk melodies and liturgical chant from disparate sources including Scotland and Syria. The witness of Catherine MacPhee of South Uist, recalling the Highland Clearances, mingles with the songs and games of dead children lost at sea. Prayer, chant, and lullaby evoke the hopes and bereavements of migrant parents and children, like the Mother and Child whose displacement is commemorated in the Nativity and Pieta.

Text by John Patrick Pazdziora © 2017

Soloist: Raha Mirzadegan
Choir: Raha Mirzadegan, Maud Taber-Thomas, Emily Shallbetter, Mary Shea Kustas, Noah Calderon, Collin Power

Artifice, conducted by Casey Cook

Texts and translations:

Nativity of the Isles

        The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned


Ave maris stella!
Dei mater alma
Atque semper Virgo,
Felix caeli porta.

Mala nostra pelle,
Funda nos in pace,
Iter para tutum,
Monstra te esse matrem.

[Hail, Star of the Sea!
Bountiful mother of God
And perpetual Virgin,
Blessed gate of heaven.

Drive away our evil,
Ground us in peace,
Provide a safe crossing,
Prove yourself a mother.]


Who is she, the singing maiden
In the lap of the hill,
In the lap of the sea?

Not the swan, singing,
Not the curlew, singing,
Not the blackbird, singing,
And not alone is she—

Who is she, the singing maiden,
In the lap of the hill,
In the lap of the sea?

Not the distaff lady, singing,
Not the shepherd lady, singing,
Not the minstrel lady, singing,
And not alone is she—

Who is she, the singing maiden,
In the lap of the hill,
In the lap of the sea?

Sweet-voiced lord-lady,
Godlike in beauty,
King’s daughter,
King’s mother,
King’s protector,
She lullabying a king,
And he nestled under her plaid.



Many a thing have I seen
In my own day and in my own generation.
Many a thing, sweet Mary,
Mother of the black sorrow!

I have seen the townships swept,
And the big holdings made of them;
I have seen the strong men
Bound on Loch Boisdale quay,
And cast into the ship like cattle.

I have heard women crying aloud
And their little children wailing.
I have seen them driven out to the streets and the wild,
The wide world behind and before us,
But a world without a friend.


Bless this creature water
Mother who shaped us,
Spirit who guided us,
Father who nourished us—

Bless this creature water
Waves cradle us,
Tides comfort us,
Salt cling to us

Soft sands welcome us,
Sea grasses nestle us,
Human voices sing to us—
Bless this creature, water.


We found the maiden walking
Her wean so cold on her breast,
Lie here in long grass, little sister,
As the fulmar sing you to rest.

We heard the maiden singing,
Her bairnie asleep by the way,
As the fulmar flew sunwise around them,
And the north star fell at noonday.

Spirits of the shore, sing them homage,
Spirits of the strait, sain their crossing.
The red-haired maiden, her plaid around her,
Clutched her wean as he reached for the sea.


This is the grey manger,
For sleeping in, for sleeping in,
This is your body, I’m keeping you
Keeping you,
Still, still, still—

This is the cold midnight
For resting in, for resting in,
This is your body, I’m holding you,
Holding you,
Still, still—

This is peace and darkness
And earth around, all earth around,
This is your body, I’m blessing you,
Blessing you,

Texts by John Patrick Pazdziora
Music by Eric Pazdziora
© 2017

For more information on the score and performance rights, please contact the composer.

AuthorEric Pazdziora

Composer, Author, Pianist