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The Ceiling Floats Away was commissioned by the NEA Art Works Grant and premiered in 2016 at the Atlas Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC. The piece features Matthew Burtner’s musical settings of 13 poems by Rita Dove. Burtner recorded Dove reading her poetry and wrote the music to the pace and cadence of the poet’s voice. The piece is either performed with Dove’s recorded voice or the poetry can be read live with the instrumental ensemble.


Instrumentation: soprano voice, flute/piccolo, Bb soprano saxophone or Bb clarinet, piano, cello


The title of the piece comes from Rita Dove’s poem, Geometry:

"I prove a theorem and the house expands:
the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,
the ceiling floats away with a sigh.
As the walls clear themselves of everything but transparency, the scent of carnations leaves with them.
I am out in the open
and above the windows have hinged into butterflies, sunlight glinting where they’ve intersected.
They are going to some point true and unproven."


1) November for Beginners
2) Mississippi
3) Describe Yourself in Three Words or Less
4) The Snow King
5) Singsong
6) Pithos
7) Ozone
8) Lint
9) Lamentations
10) In the Bulrush
11) Happenstance
12) Five Elephants
13) Geometry


Optionally, each chamber movement is interspersed with an audience interaction bridge during which the audience members use the Nomads software to respond to the music and poetry, creating an audience reflection on the work we perceive as a new composition. The audience music/poetry is projected onto a screen behind the musicians. The piece can be performed with just the musical movements without the interactive software element.

The Ceiling Floats Away (2016)

  • Performance materials include a PDF score, PDF parts, and fixed media electronic track

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