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WorksChoral MusicWomen's ChorusFrom Behind the Caravan

From Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hâfez
*named a "Top 25 Contemporary Choral Gem" by Kevin Meidl/Phillip Swan
*mvt II: chosen for Texas All-State 2015

Forces: SA soloists, SSAA chorus, viola (or cello), hand drums, opt'l Oud
Text: Khwajeh Shams al-Din Muhammad Hâfez-e Shirazi (ca. 1320-1390)
Language: Medieval Persian (Farsi)
Duration: 13 min. (5 movements)
Commissioned by: The Rose Ensemble
Premiere: March 2007 (The Rose Ensemble: "Mystics, Prophets, Sages & Seers")
Published by: Abbie Betinis Music Co., AB-049-01
See the score: PREVIEW THE SCORE (pdf)

Download instrumental parts (for Suffer No Grief only): Viola (PDF), Cello (PDF)

 REVIEWS (Click to view/hide)
"...new and fascinating. . . Both Betinis’ and Whitacre’s song cycles were written at the age of 26, and given their originality and appeal, both composers are ones whose many more works should be anticipated eagerly."
- Philippa Kiraly, The Gathering Note (Seattle, WA), April 2008 [see all]

"Soloists Ashley Klassen and Cassandra Chugh were heart-stopping in Abbie Betinis' arresting From Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hâfez, inspired by 14th-century Persian poetry."
- Gwenda Nemerofsky, Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, MB), Feb 2009 [see all]

"Elektra [Women's Choir] has taken many adventurous turns in their music over the past quarter century, and the centrepiece in this concert is no exception – it’s an exotic, thrilling and evocative work by Abbie Betinis called From Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hâfez."
- Jeff Reilly, CBCmusic, Mar 1, 2013 [see all]

  WATCH (Click to view/hide)

San Francisco Girls Chorus live at Cerritos Performance Center, Cerritos, California. Nov 1, 2009


Tracks 1-5
The Rose Ensemble (live); Jordan Sramek, artistic director; Ginna Watson, vielle; Tim O'Brien, percussion; David Burke, oud

Tracks 6-11
Seattle Choral Company (live); Fred Coleman, cond.; Stephen Creswell, viola; Jane Hall, riq/tabla; Stephen Elaimy, oud; Behrooz Alavi, ney


Johann Wolfgang Goethe once wrote, "Only with you, Hafez, do I wish to compete, for the older you get the younger you become. . . And religion is no obstacle, for if the word 'Islam' means to submit to God, we all live and die in Islam."

Khwajeh Shams al-Din Muhammad Hâfez-e Shirazi (ca. 1320-1390) was born in Shiraz, Persia (Iran). He wrote nearly 400 lyric poems, called ghazals, and is the undisputed master of that particular poetic form. His writing is mystical and based on Sufism, a tradition of Islam that is associated both with the Sunni and Shi'a denominations, as well as other currents of Islam.

I was drawn to these four ghazals particularly because of the elegant way they depict longing… longing for Truth, longing for Reason, longing for Kindness, Love, and - always - longing for the Beloved. Also, as I was reading, I found that many of Hâfez's poems seem to have in common beautiful metaphors of transience: fire, breath, breeze.

In fact, I was fascinated to learn that the symbols of fire and breath are connected. In the first (and fifth) text, Hâfez addresses himself, asking himself to throw off his "kherqe" (his woolen shawl), which is a symbol of outward piety, and to show his true faith by breathing out his despair with the sigh "Ah!" It is said that the "Ah!" is a sign of sincerity, and can burn a hypocrite with the genuine fire of the soul.

Above all, I have tried desperately to remain true to the intonation of the language, and to Hâfez's poetic instinct. Each poem unfortunately had to be shortened for the purpose of creating a concert piece, but I encourage anyone interested to read the original poems in their entirety, or to seek out recordings of the spoken text. Special thanks to Behrooz Alavi for his insights into this poetry and its rich performance practice.

The music is entirely my own, and not at all authentically Persian. It is my interpretation of an assortment of influences, which include my recent study of Persian speech, scales and modes, listening to live Turkish music, and perhaps also from somewhere as far back in my memory as when I was four years old and danced - joyfully and tirelessly - with my Greek relatives in Athens.

"From Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hâfez" is dedicated, with great admiration, to The Rose Ensemble.

- Abbie Betinis, 2007


Hand percussion recommended:

      Mvt. I & V = Riq or tambourine
      Mvt. II = Tombak. Daf, or other frame drum, is also possible.
      Mvt. III = Tombak, handclaps, or other high-pitched, sharp percussive sounds.
      Mvt. IV = none

The instrumentation of this piece can be easily modified. The premiere featured vielle, with oud doubling on mvts. I and V. Another effective performance added a Persian ney flute. Transposed parts for other instruments are available from the composer upon request.

Instrumental interludes in the Persian style have proven quite effective as performed between some or all movements of "From Behind the Caravan." Since each of the poems has a traditional way of being sung, it is also possible to introduce each movement with a bit of the sung text in the traditional manner.


I. we have come
(Hear the entire text in Persian:

We, to this door, not seeking pride or glory... we have come.
For shelter from ill-fortune, here... we have come.

Traveling along love's journey, from the borders of nothingness,
Now into states of being, all this way... we have come.

O ship of grace, where is thy anchor of forbearance?
For in this ocean of generosity, immersed in sin... we have come.

Hâfez, throw off your woolen kherqe [Sufi cloak], for we,
from behind the caravan, with the fire of sighing "ah!"... we have come.

II. suffer no grief
(Hear the entire text in Persian: example 1, example 2)

Forsaken Joseph to Canaan shall return.
Suffer no grief.

Upon the thorny stalks of family grief, a rose shall bloom.
Suffer no grief...

If you desire the Way and plant your pilgrim foot in the desert,
Then if the mighty Arabian thorn make reproofs,
Suffer no grief...

Suffer no grief, suffer no grief, O heart.
Back to reason, comes this distraught head.
Suffer no grief...

O heart, despairing heart,
O! O! Suffer no grief...

There is no road that has no end.

III. closer to the fire
(Hear the entire text in Persian: example 1, example 2)

Last night I saw the angels beat at the door of the tavern,
The clay of Adam, they shaped and into the mould, they cast.

The churches war among themselves, forgive them;
When they could not see the truth, they beat the door of fable.

Fire, Fire! Oh! Oh!

Thanks be to God, for between me and Him, peace chanced,
The dancing Sufis cast the cup of thankfulness!

Fire, Fire! Oh! Oh!

IV. boatpeople
(Hear the entire text in Persian: example)

My heart falls from grasp. For God's sake come to my cry, O pious ones;
O the pain that Love's hidden mystery should be disclosed!

Arise, arise… O breeze…

To ease the pain of the world, live by these words:
With friends, give kindness; with enemies, courtesy.

We are the shipwrecked. O fair breeze, arise!
So that, again, we may behold the face of the Beloved.


V. we have come (reprise)
(Hear the entire text in Persian: example)

We, to this door, not seeking pride or glory... we have come.
For shelter from ill-fortune, here... we have come.
sighing "ah!"...

We have come.

Performed by :

Cappella Clausura; Boston, Massachusetts (Amelia LeClair, conductor)
Festival of Choirs 2010; American International School of Muscat, Oman (Philip Swan, conductor)
Illinois State University Concert Choir (Karyl Carlson, conductor)
Lawrence University Women's Choir "Cantala," (Phillip A. Swan, conductor)
Pennsylvania Girlchoir with Lyric Fest (Mark Anderson, conductor)
Penthalia Singers; Ontario, Canada (Alice Malach, conductor)
The Rose Ensemble (Jordan Sramek, artistic director)
Seattle Choral Company (Fred Coleman, conductor)
San Francisco Girl's Chorus (Susan McMane, artistic director)
Singing City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Jeffrey Brillhart, conductor)
Sound Circle; Boulder, Colorado (Sue Coffee, artistic director)
University of Manitoba Women's Choir (Elroy Friesen, conductor)
Michigan State University Women's Chamber Ensemble (Sandra Snow, conductor)
USC Thornton Oriana Choir (Lesley Leighton, conductor), California
Vox Musica; Sacramento, California (Daniel Paulson, director)
Women's Voices Chorus (), North Carolina

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