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Ruach for String Quartet (2017)


The Hebrew word Ruach means both “breath” and “spirit.” Fundamental to this word
(and to the Greek analogue, pneuma, which also is used in both ways) is a paradox. The notion of
“spirit” denotes something ineffable and invisible - yet something that is always ready to break
through and make itself known in a transformative way. Catholic mystics, African griots, and
Christian Pentecostals are well-known examples of religious people who - when filled with the
“spirit” – sing, dance, pray, feel, or see things that are amazing, powerful, and even out of their

In the same way, “breath” is something simultaneously ineffable and invisible – yet also
so fundamentally physical that our bodies do it without our conscious thought. We usually only
become aware of our breathing when we experience something surprising or particularly important:
when something beautiful makes us catch our breath, our something frightening makes us cry out
in terror. In the same way, we are not usually aware of our “spirit” except in special circumstances:
in a religious or spiritual state, for example, or when we have to call upon something deep within
us in order to create – or to endure.

This piece, Ruach, confronts this paradox by bringing to our awareness many different ways “breath”
and “spirit” can become sonically and dramatic present. Throughout the piece the performers are
asked to make various kinds of breath sounds with their instruments and their own voices, blurring
the line between music and sound. Overall, the piece emphasizes idea of the spirit as a powerful
force that is surprising, shocking, and fundamentally resistant to control.


Delvyn Case

About Delvyn Case

Delvyn Case is a composer, conductor, scholar, writer, and educator based in Boston. His works have been performed by over 80 orchestras in the US, UK, Canada, and Europe, as well as by several Grammy-winning artists. His work as a scholar and writer explores the intersections between music and the Christian tradition and all types of music – scared, secular, classical, and popular. He teaches at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, a secular liberal arts school, and is a member of Old South Church in Boston.

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