John Musto                      Composer/Pianist

River Songs

for medium voice, violoncello, and piano


Song to the Trees and Streams


Dark against the sky yonder distant line

Lies before us.  Trees we see, long the line of trees,

Bending, swaying in the breeze.


Bright with flashing light yonder distant line

Runs before us, swiftly runs, swift the river runs,

Winding, flowing, flowing o'er the land.


Hark, a sound, yonder distant sound

Comes to greet us, singing comes, soft the river's song,

Rippling gently beneath the trees.


                                                                           - Pawnee


Ask Me


Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.


I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.


                                                                           - William Stafford


Quo Vadis


Sometimes I choose a cloud and let it

cross the sky floating me away.

Or a bird unravels its song and carries me

as it flies deeper and deeper into the woods.


Is there a way to be gone and still

belong? Travel that takes you home?


Is that life? – to stand by a river and go.


                                                                           - William Stafford


Crossing Brooklyn Ferry


Ah, what can be more stately to me than mast-hemmed Manhattan?

River and sunset and scallop-edg'd waves of floodtide?

Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! Drench with your splendor me!

Stand up, tall masts of Manahatta! Stand up! Beautiful hills of Brooklyn!

Flow on, river! Flow with the flood tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!

Fly on, sea birds! Fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air!

Receive the summer sky, you water,

and faithfully hold it till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you!

We fathom you not – we love you. You furnish your parts toward eternity,

Great and small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.


                                                                           - Walt Whitman




                      Back to Chamber Music



River Songs, on poetry from the Pawnee tribe, William Stafford, and Walt Whitman, was written for cellist Yehuda Hanani's Close Encounters with Music series in 2003. The motivation behind the commission was a movement to halt the construction of the St. Lawrence Cement Plant on the banks of the Hudson River. Rather than writing a protest piece, it was decided that a work celebrating rivers would have broader appeal. The second song, Ask Me, references Schubert's Aus dem Flusse, also a poem about what might be stirring under the ice.

River Songs had its premiere in Great Barrington, Massachussettes in 2003 by baritone William Sharp, and cellist Yehuda Hanani with the composer at the piano.


Order from