Listen: Song of the Ascents

An archival recording of the world premiere, performed by the Knox Presbyterian Church Choir under the direction of Earl Rivers.

For information on performing this work or obtaining a perusal score, please contact SDG.


About the composer

Robert Beaser has been described as having a “lyrical gift comparable to that of the late Samuel Barber” (New York Times). His compositions have earned him numerous awards and honors, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters lifetime achievement award. Since 1993, he has served as Professor and Chairman of the Composition Department at the Juilliard School in New York. For a complete listing of Beaser's compositions, see Schott Music.


Song of the Ascents

Robert Beaser

Robert Beaser
Song of the Ascents
Mixed chorus (SATB) and organ, with 4 soloists
DURATION: 6 minutes
TEXT: Psalm 121
A choral setting posing the age-old question, "From where does my help come" and the comforting response. Psalms Project commission.



World Premiere
February 1, 2015
Knox Presbyterian Church Choir
Earl Rivers, conductor
Knox Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio


Knox Presbyterian Church Choir
Knox Presbyterian Church Choir

The world premiere of American composer Robert Beaser’s choral work Songs of the Ascent (Psalm 121) was presented Sunday, February 1, 2015, during the Sunday worship service at Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. Dr. Earl Rivers led the Knox Choir, with soloists from the choir and organist Christina Haan.

The performance was the culminating event in Soli Deo Gloria's three-year Psalms Project, a collection of fifteen contemporary choral works by the world’s foremost composers expressing the text of the Hebrew Psalter in the Western Art music tradition for a 21st-century audience.

Joseph LoSchiavo with Robert Beaser
SDG President and CEO, Joseph LoSchiavo,
with composer Robert Beaser

For Song of the Ascents, Beaser chose the text from Psalm 121, which, in the Jewish tradition, is said in birth rooms, for newborns, asking for God’s protection in life’s journey.

When I was thinking about using a Psalm, this one held a particular resonance for me. Mendelssohn used it in Elijah, 'Neither Slumbers nor Sleeps,' which I’ve known forever. The intent of the words is very human, very personal – real people encountering real dangers, looking to something beyond them to guide them, to give them comfort, to give them hope."—Robert Beaser

Soloists for Song of the Ascents premiere
Soloists for Song of the Ascents premiere:
(seated, L to R) Jasmine Habersham, soprano;
Debra VanEngen, mezzo-soprano;
(standing, L to R) Derrell Acon, bass;
John Humphrey, tenor

The piece opens with the very human entreaty, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” and moves quickly into the comforting answer: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth … he who keeps you will not slumber.”  Beaser’s use of the soloists with the chorus creates a layered texture, intermingling the personal, fragile individual with the strength of the collective.

Psalm 121 is one of fifteen Psalms that begin with the ascription Shir Hama'aloth (Hebrew: שִׁיר המַעֲלוֹת‎), meaning "Song of Ascents.” Many scholars believe these Psalms were sung by worshipers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals or by priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.


Soli Deo Gloria's Psalms Project is made possible by a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc.