Eight Bells

Eight Bells

Text: John Lee Payton      Seascape Art: Ken Bushe      Portrait Art: Michael Clifford Shpack      Music: Sora Jederan-Shpack

All is quiet in the bowels of the slaver far at sea

[audio:Eight Bells Clip 1.mp3]
Where it rests upon the bottom leagues and years from you and me.
But there was a time ’round eight bells when the night was windy cold
And the shackled ones were sighing in the darkness of the hold.

The sea was still, the night was calm; no man heard their plea

[audio:Eight Bells Clip 2.mp3]

To almighty Gods for kindness and release from misery
Restless sleepers’ iron bracelets pinked softly as first bell tolled,
The next four marked spirits rising from their shadows in the hold.



At sixth bell a young lieutenant who’d left a wife just twenty-three

[audio:Eight Bells Clip 3.mp3]
Cupped a guttering candle in one shivering hand so he could see
Something flickering in his heart and eye and making his soul yearn
As he walked the creaking planks of mid-night to and fro from bow to stern.

At seventh bell he felt a shifting wind but naught else did he heed

[audio:Eight Bells Clip 4.mp3]

But a tiny portrait of his darling in its gold and silver filigree.
Then came the wraiths around him, and the ship and all its world
So stars’ light seemed torn from Heaven and deep into Hades hurled.

No man heard the eighth bell sing out for the free and slave souls slipped,

[audio:Eight Bells Clip 5a.mp3]

For it was over in a heartbeat when the black ship’s keel was split.
She struck a reef, was torn asunder, and swallowed by the sea
Never more to see sweet Africa or the young bride of twenty-three.

Deuteronomy III



Deuteronomy III juxtaposes the lives of a contemporary American military family involved in the Middle East conflict with the life of one of Israel’s greatest, yet lesser known Biblical kings, King Josiah discoverer of the ancient scroll of Moses, the Deuteronomic law and military leader of the people of Israel, circa 641-609 BCE.
Beginning in the eighth century and on into in the seventh century, Assyria reestablished its authority over the eastern Mediterranean area. The northern state of Israel is obliterated in 722/721 by King Sargon and its inhabitants taken into exile. Judah, in the south accommodates Assyrian control, but towards the end of the seventh century, as the Assyrian empire begins to disintegrate, the people of Judah taste the sweetness of freedom. Learning of a possible threat from Egypt’s newest pharaoh, Necho II, Josiah assembles an army and leads them to war in the name of God as a people determined to be free.
Interspersed throughout this story is the contemporary story of international occupation and war, land and resource rights, and the struggle for survival. Based on individual accounts of soldiers and civilians caught in war, news reports and readings on occupation and war world-wide, our contemporary characters honor our present day military and the warrior in each of us, while the personal stories of the men and women from both time periods cause us to reflect on how each of us deals with our personal needs and how these in turn affect larger decisions regarding war, occupation, land and resource ownership and human rights.
As the opera reaches its final climax in Act III, five of the seven main characters, now devastated by their own life crisis, reach a simultaneous point of insanity. From the depths of their anguish they will either lose their minds or create a powerful change.

Ancient characters

Josiah – Bass, King and leader of the nation of Israel circa 630 BCE
Jedidah – Mezzo-Soprano, Mother of King Josiah
Shaphan – Tenor, Scribe to King Josiah
Hilkiah – Baritone, High Priest to King Josiah
Hulda – Contralto, Prophetess

Contemporary characters

Paul – Bass-Baritone, USA Four-star Army General
Clara – Lyric Soprano, Archaeology Buff
Paul and Clara are married. Their son is Michael.
Sammy – Dramatic Soprano, Drama Therapist, married to Michael
Michael – Tenor, USA Lieutenant, son of Paul and Clara, husband of Sammy
Michael and Sammy are married. Their children are Jonathan and Amber.
Todd – Baritone, Director of Ground Operations
Jonathan – Young child of Michael and Sammy, around age 5-6
Amber – Infant daughter of Sammy and Paul

SATB Choir consists of:

Surrounding Choir
Stage Choir
Women’s Choir
Men’s Choir
Children’s Choir

All the Walls


               All the Walls


Text and Music by Sora Jederan-Shpack

Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic Orchestra

Tobias Volkman Conducting

Sora Jederan-Shpack Reader

“Congratulations for your music, All the Walls, we do love it! We wish it will be performed many more times – even some day with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv…” The Ramat Rachel Archaeological Project

Opening in Ancient Israel (1m 57s)

[audio:All the Walls Clip 1.mp3]


United Nations Charter on Peace – Shattered by Walls (2m 6s)

[audio:All the Walls Clip 2.mp3]


We Are All Warriors (1m 23s)

[audio:All the Walls Clip 3.mp3]


Salute Our Troops (1m 28s)

[audio:All the Walls Clip 4.mp3]


Peace is the Only Hope (1m 38s)

[audio:All the Walls Clip 5.mp3]


All the Walls Complete Orchestra Only Version (16m 16s)

[audio:All the Walls CMU.mp3]




Text for


Sun rises.
Shadows blanket Bethlehem.
Glistening rays awaken Jerusalem
Ancient King Josiah walks pensively the gardens of his palace.
Gazing over the valley below, Josiah ponders the plight of his people.
Jedidah, Josiah’s mother, calls: Josiah, my son, listen:
Women drummers
Words of wonder
Words of warning
Josiah declares: To our north Assyria strangles us with her relentless occupation
To our south Egypt’s pharaoh readies his armies to reclaim our lands as theirs
In the name of our One G-d*
I will assemble a righteous army
Break down the altars of the lesser G-ds
Kill the pagan priests and priestesses
Defend our lands
Walls of War
Walls of Terror
Walls of Mistrust

1945 Charter of the United Nations
…Words Shattered by Walls
All nations in conflict
Shall first of all seek to negotiate
…Hopes Shattered by Walls
All nations in conflict
Shall refrain from the threat or use of force…
…Possibilities…Shattered…By Walls

A child…in pain…cries
A woman…is raped
A man…is tortured
Families, friends – murdered
Children question:
Why are these people shooting at us?
Mothers wail!
…A woman sings: I am holding you…
Fathers disappear
…A man sings: Holding you, ever so gently…
All cry out to their G-d – deliver us!
…Together, we are holding you, ever so tenderly…

Women drum
Josiah proclaims:
We have slaughtered all priests and priestesses.
Jedidah implores:
What have become of the women drummers?

Military drummers
March to war
A general enters
A soldier surveys the battlefield
We are all warriors
Defending those whom and that which we hold dear
Our journey – a rite of passage
Warriors return home.

All rise!
Celebrate our soldiers with songs of praise!
Salute our Troops
Stand proud
For the brave men and women
Who give their lives for us all
Enduring hardships unknown
Of sand, of heat, of grit
Of enemy bombs and guns
And deceased comrades
Honor our men and women
Our outstanding fine troops

As in a dream, our minds search for sanity amidst insanity…
Kill or be killed!
Hidden fears, shame, humiliation surface.
Murder!…..or be murdered!
Atrocities accost the soul.
Souls separate, bodies become numb.
All the walls are only mistakes…
The soul cries to be reclaimed!

We realize we are all connected…
Walls collapse.
What we do to others is what we do to ourselves…
Walls collapse.
Our survival does not depend on the destruction of others…
Walls utterly collapse.

A myriad of possibilities
For peace and prosperity
Flood our minds
Soul and body unite
Ancient and contemporary
Religions, races, ethnicities…
…live, learn, work as one people of many peoples…
Peace is the only hope.


The Story behind All the Walls
Sora Jederan-Shpack

On my last day of volunteer work at Ramat Rachel we were visited by Israeli President, Shimon Peres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Peres Center for Peace. After meeting with the directors of the excavation, President Peres came to the site and spoke with many of us. I told him I came to the excavation to gather information for an opera I am writing about the life of King Josiah, one of Israel’s greatest, yet lesser known kings, a man seeking freedom from Assyria’s northern occupation and concerned with Egypt’s growing power and possible occupation from the southwest. I further explained that the opera begins in the present time quoting the original United Nations Charter on Peace, stating that when nations are in conflict, they should first seek to negotiate. Then I asked him if he had a comment I could include in my opera. He nodded his head in agreement, thought for a moment and said, “All the walls are only mistakes; peace is the only hope.”

On Saturday our work on the site was complete and nearly all the archaeologists, historians, theologians and volunteers left Ramat Rachel for services in Jerusalem. I decided to stay for a last look at the site before leaving Israel on Sunday. As I stood overlooking Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the spectacular excavation of King Hezekiah’s and King Josiah’s palace, the music for the opening which I had been searching for came to mind. I jotted some melodic notes and harmonies and then sketched the structure and form using material I had already written into an orchestral version of portions of the opera, I even had a title, “All the Walls.”



Ramat-Rachel Archaeology Project, artifacts, area photos, Shimon Peres visits Ramat-Rachel, http://tau.ac.il/~rmtrachl/.

Iron Age terracotta figurine of woman playing the drum excavated at Shiqmona, Israel, scanned from A Feminist Companion to Exodus to Deuteronomy, Athalya Brenner (ed.), p. 212. (Original photograph from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.)

Female players of small timbrels, 750-600 BCE, http://www.icobase.com/. Richard Dumbrill, Myriam Marcetteau, Margaux Bousquet.

“Sunrise over Bethlehem,” artist’s own photography.

*Out of respect for the Jewish community, I have chosen to write the word meaning The Omnipotent One as G-d omitting the middle letter.