The Path


for choir and orchestra (2017)

Categories: ,



90 min.


choir and orchestra

Program Notes

We connect to our traditions primarily through the stories told in works of art: film, novels, and music. Traditions are lost when those stories go untold. As a practicing Buddhist since 2005, I have longed to bring the teachings of early Buddhism to life in my music. While there are biblically-inspired operas, oratorios, and cantatas like Messiah, Samson and Delilah, Moses und Aron, and others, we don’t hear the equally compelling stories of Sappadāsa, Ambapāli, or Bhaddā.

The words of The Path are from the Pāli canon, the most ancient extant Buddhist texts. These texts includes stories, poems, philosophy, practice instructions, and homey wisdom of the Buddha and the first generations of Buddhists. I am deeply aware of the risks of misrepresentation and cultural appropriation, and I do not take this project lightly. I have taken great care to honor generations of Buddhists from all over the world that venerate these scriptures by working steadily and respectfully to understand the meaning and the intention of the words I have set. I read the Dhamma daily and try to live my life by these teachings. The Buddha himself taught that the Dhamma should be shared with people of all cultures and could be recited and taught in the local language. The Path is a deeply personal exploration of my own understanding of Buddhist thought and belief, but I also seek to show that so many of the questions we have, struggles we face, and sources of inspiration we rely on were as powerful and relevant 2500 years ago as they are today.

The need for a new translation arose from my desire to make an English translation that was more easily accessible to a non-Buddhist audience and to make a rendering that is better sung than read or chanted. While this translation aims more for poetry than word-by-word rendering, I have nevertheless always striven for accuracy. I have also minimized technical and unusual vocabulary.

I would very much like to acknowledge the debt I have to previous translators of the text used in this work, especially Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ajahn Sujato. A very big thanks to Anton Armstrong, Mark Stover, and Steve Amundson for their incredible efforts in bringing this piece to life. Finally, I would like to thank my teacher Bhante Sathi for his help with this project and all of his good works. Their help was invaluable. However, all errors are entirely my own.

Justin Merritt Music

Composer Justin Merritt was the youngest-ever winner of the ASCAP Foundation Rudolph Nissim Award. He is also the winner of a host of other awards including the McKnight Fellowship, the Copland Award, and the Polyphonos Prize. His music has been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, and on A Prairie Home Companion.

His evening length cantata, The Path, was premiered at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in April 2018. The work is a setting of a collection of Buddhist Pali scriptures translated by the composer and set for multiple choirs, soloists, and large orchestra.

He received his Bachelors from Trinity University and his Masters and Doctorate from Indiana University. He studied composition with Samuel Adler, Sven-David Sandstrom, Claude Baker, Timothy Kramer, Don Freund, and electronic and computer music with Jeffrey Hass. He is currently Professor and Chair of Music at St. Olaf College. He resides in Northfield, Minnesota with his wife Faye and their children Cullen Fang Ouxiang and Molly Fang Qinghe.

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