Cover the Walls for Orchestra- First Performance (Parts ONLY)



Duration: 8 min

Ensemble:  2.2(ca).2(bcl).2(cbsn)/; Percussion: vibraphone, crash cymbal, tam-tam, chimes (G3, C4)

First Performance: March 19, 2023 by the Longmont Symphony. Elliot Moore, Conductor.

Please note: Scores are purchased, fulfilled as a PDF, and yours to keep. Parts are licensed (“rented”) per performance and delivered in PDF form. The parts PDF does not include a score.

The 1st Performance/ Additional Performance fees are only for academic and low-budget non-profit organizations. Larger organizations should contact: mail[AT]ursaminormusic[dot]com




Over the last few years, I have become increasingly fascinated by the little-known story of the Immigration Detention Station on Angel Island, located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.  Sometimes referred to as “The Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island served as the entry point for virtually all American immigrants of Asian descent between 1910 and 1940.  Unlike it’s East Coast cousin, though, where most people were processed into New York in a matter of hours, because of the overtly racist Chinese Exclusion Act, many hopeful immigrants were held on Angel Island for weeks, even months, in a kind of purgatory, as they underwent lengthy interrogations meant to objectively prove a relationship with an existing citizen.  During their seemingly-endless detentions, some immigrants carved poetry into the walls of their dormitories as a way to pass the time, and to express their unhappiness, homesickness, and fear.  In the interceding years, these poems were painted over and lost to history until 1970, when, during a final inspection just before the center was due to be demolished, a park ranger stumbled upon a few faint poems and was intrigued by their potential historical significance. With the support of the local Chinese community, demolition was halted, the center was subsequently turned into a museum, and the poems – more than two-hundred of them – have been translated into English by Him Mark Lai, Judy Yung and Genny Lim in their wonderful book Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940.

Cover the Walls draws its inspiration both generally from the idea of these poems, and more specially from their actual text.  When writing this work, I would sing the words of some of the poems to myself, and then adapt their melodies to the instruments. These two poems are “quoted” melodically in this piece for orchestra:


Over a hundred poems are on the walls.

Looking at them, they are all lament the slow passage.

What can one lonely man say to another?


I have lingered here three days moving again and again.

It is difficult to compare this to the peacefulness at home.

Life need not be so demeaning.


Translation by Him Mark Lai and Genny Lim