Over the City, Thomas

SATB with organ, or piano and cello, or chamber ensemble

Dedicated to the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima, this poignant work is sung in both English and Japanese, and is an excellent choice for concerts in remembrance of the victims of war, or for Veteran’s or Memorial Day performances.

Program Note

Over the City was commissioned by the Unitarian Universalist National Consortium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. On the anniversary date, August 6, 1995, it was simultaneously premiered in 30 cities across the US.

The lyrics are by Molly McGee, a Seattle poet who lived in Japan for many years. She writes:  “The text for Over the City is derived from an actual experience.  During my two-year stay in Japan I had traveled down to Nagasaki and visited the bomb museum there and ate, it seems, some bad fish from a little food stall. I had planned to stop off in Hiroshima on the way back to Kobe, but on route became extremely ill. By the time I reached Hiroshima the conductor had encamped me in his little office on the train (a retching foreigner is rather noticeable in Japan). All I remember of Hiroshima is the brief sight of it through the window and my garbled emotions, compounded by food poisoning.  Only later did I equate that historical date, August 6th, in Hiroshima with my own illness — the symptoms of food poisoning strangely mocking those of radiation sickness.

World War II is often referred to as “the good war.” But it was horrible, as all wars are. There were atrocities on all sides. Even if the rationale is true, as the purveyors of Realpolitik assert (that the war ended earlier due to our dropping of the atomic bomb), it is nevertheless, a legacy in which we can never, in any way, take pride. Human beings, most of whom had very little control over the conduct of the war, were savagely slaughtered. The “hibakusha” (survivors of the Bomb) and their descendants continue to suffer today and are often ostracized by their own communities. The Bomb was so horrific that “no one” wants to remember it. Even those who died are left “homeless.” So, fifty years later, it is so important that we take time to be reconciled with the more than 200,000 men, women and children who lost their lives.”

Notes on preparation and performance

Over the City is available in three different instrumental scorings, to suit various needs – SATB with organ, SATB with cello and piano, or SATB with chamber ensemble (2 vln, vla, vcl, db, fl, cl, pno). The choral parts are identical in all three scorings.


Late night and the train stops in Hiroshima.  A new snow covers our postwar years. And high above the city I see lost constellations, voiceless fears, inflamed emptiness.

Does Hiroshma deluge our memory? Only disfigured souls find glory in it. Our own extinction becomes so clear when we see another’s face reflected in a train window.

Soon, Hiroshima, the modern consequence, will be left behind the train.  And I, born after that long, hot day, open up a window,  to let in the cool ash-like snow, believing that the act of remembrance can shelter the homeless dead.

wasurenai koto ga    the act of not forgetting 

ikiba no nai shi no      the dead without homes

yuki tokoro to naru    can become shelter

Contact Karen P. Thomas to purchase this score.

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About Karen P. Thomas

Karen P. Thomas, composer and conductor, is the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Seattle Pro Musica. Her compositions are performed and broadcast throughout the world, by groups such as The Hilliard Ensemble and the Vocal Consort of Brussels. Her works are published by Lucis Music and Santa Barbara Music Publishing, and have been featured at numerous ACDA and AGO conferences. A prize-winning composer, she has received grants from the NEA, The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and Meet the Composer, among numerous others. As a conductor, Ms. Thomas has produced nine critically-acclaimed CDs, and received the Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence and the ASCAP-Chorus America Award. She has appeared as guest conductor at international festivals in Europe and North America, and the NPR radio show Saint Paul Sunday. She received the 2012 Outstanding Choral Director Award for Washington State, and currently serves on the boards of the Pacific NW Chapter for the Recording Academy (Grammy), the American Choral Directors Association (NW Division), and the Greater Seattle Choral Consortium.