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The Price of Ambition (2024)

for SSAA choir, piano | 00:04:00

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Shelley Zhang

Commissioned by the Body Image Consortium for Every BODY by the following choruses:
Atlanta Women’s Chorus, Dr. Melissa Arasi, artistic director 
Appalachian Equality Chorus (Knoxville, TN) Dr. Alan Stevens, artistic director
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, Dr. Thea Kano, artistic director
One Voice Chorus (Charlotte, NC), Cory Davis, artistic director 
Turtle Creek Chorale (Dallas, TX), Sean Baugh, artistic director
Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, Dr. Gerald Gurss, artistic director

The score for this work will be available following the premiere in 2024.


"I'm so excited to work for the first time with poet Shelley Zhang for the song The Price of Ambition. Shelley's poetry describes her own experience of negative health effects when disregarding her physical needs to accomplish goals, an impulse commonly encoded into our culture's obsession with 'hustle' and achievement. I resonated so strongly with her emotionally raw wish for reconciliation between her body and mind, as she reflects upon her journey toward healing and full recognition of her humanity."

- Melissa Dunphy

"'The Price of Ambition' is about the sacrifices we make to achieve our goals, and how we might push our bodies beyond healthy limits. I wrote it in Fall 2022, when I was struggling with health issues and having some honest conversations with myself about what I wanted my life to look like. I had achieved some very meaningful goals, but I had also sacrificed more than I had expected, and was faced with consequences I could not have foreseen. This poem was, in a way, a love letter to myself as I tried to meet my new needs with compassion and grace."

- Shelley Zhang

The Price of Ambition
By Shelley Zhang

I wish
My body would forgive
My mind.
For one pushed the other
Too far.
And now my body rebels.
It bleeds.
It bleeds too much.
I beg it to stop.
But it won’t listen,
Because I didn’t listen.

And so I hold myself—
I hold myself,
And wait.
I forgive myself
And hope
That slowly,
My body
Will forgive
My mind.
And we can be healed,
And rejoice—
And rest.


  • 11 Jul, 2024: See Change Treble Choir at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, MN
  • 21 Jun, 2024 - 22 Jun, 2024: See Change Treble Choir at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, MN