Sacred Sunday: “Ne irascaris Domine,” William Byrd


This piece is my most meaningful musical discovery of 2013.  Here’s how it happened.

Do you remember, back in September and early October, when it felt like everything was going wrong at once?  If you live in D.C., as I do, you probably remember.  Let’s catalogue everything that happened:

– The Navy Yard shooting

– The shooting/car chase around the Capitol

– The man who immolated himself on the National Mall

There were other awful things that happened in D.C. and around the world around that time, as well, and I remember talking about them but don’t remember what they were.  I guess I blocked them out.

Also around this time, my work started to really pick up and I found myself staying later and later at the office.  On late nights at work I like to listen to music to keep me going, and this night, filled as I was with a sort of existential dread, I looked for something soothing.  I’ve listened to William Byrd all my life, so I found a recording of his sacred motets on YouTube, pressed play, and forged ahead.

My ears leaned towards the speakers when “Ne irascaris” started.  It was different than the preceding track, and not just in tempo and melody and all the obvious things, but in tone.  It wasn’t exactly soothing but it wasn’t exactly sad, and it sounded a little resigned but simultaneously still kept some hope alive.  The music caused all the fear, anger, unease, and resentment – towards a whole lot of things – I had felt since the Navy Yard shooting to build in me until, once the music got to 06:10, I completely broke down.

“Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem has been made desolate.”

I had to look up the English translation the next morning and was startled yet completely unsurprised to discover what the words that brought me to tears actually meant.  It felt spooky that I had, through total chance, found a piece that so completely resonated with feelings I’d not yet fully dealt with that it sparked a wonderful catharsis.  It’s amazing what music can do.


Ne irascaris Domine satis,
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae.
Ecce respice populus tuus omnes nos.  

Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.

Sion deserta facta est,
Jerusalem desolata est.

Be not angry, O Lord,
and remember our iniquity no more.
Behold, we are all your people.
Your holy city has become a wilderness.
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem has been made desolate.

2 thoughts on “Sacred Sunday: “Ne irascaris Domine,” William Byrd

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