If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking (download)


SAB Chorus, piano

Emily Dickinsons words set the tone for a song about reaching out to others, of treasuring the earth and its creatures, for mixed chorus and piano or harp.

Preview the score:


Listen to an excerpt performed by StreetSong MN and the Schola Cantorum of the the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

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If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking (download)

SAB, piano or two-part treble chorus, piano or harp
3′ duration
Text: Emily Dickinson, composer
Premiere: StreetSong MN, Teri Larson and Bill Mathis, Directors, 11/19/17
5 pages

Program Note

Written for StreetSong MN, a chorus in the Twin Cities committed to singing about the issue of homelessness. The founding directors of StreetSong are Teri Larson, Music Director of the Basilica of St Mary, and Bill Mathis, conductor of Chorus Polaris, which gave the premiere of my setting of Calon lân. Emily Dickinson’s single-stanza poem (Franklin 982) said exactly what I wanted to express, but I was bold enough to extend and develop it in two additional stanzas, addressing pressing climate and migration issues. Alternate harp accompaniment available.


If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

If I can keep the river flowing,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can plant a tree (or two, or three)
And bring the rain

Or sow the seeds that hands
Will harvest as autumn grain
I shall not live in vain.

If I can care for those who need me,
and listen when they call;
If I can lend a hand to others,
help them stand tall,

And lift a voice for freedom,
justice and peace for all,
We’ll build a bridge, a human bridge
and so take down a wall.

Emily Dickinson, F. 982  (v. 1, 2)
David Evan Thomas (additional verses)


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