In Memoriam is a three-movement song cycle, commissioned by Jonathan Bautista and Nova Vocal Ensemble, for SATB choir and featured soprano and baritone soloists. The song cycle, which sets the text written by Sharon Goldstein, is a commentary on 21st-century American Tragedy, focusing especially on the tragedies that occurred in 2016. The cycle begins and ends with the forward-looking refrain: “An ounce of pain must leaven a pound of love”. This refrain brings a sense of hope that love will always overcome hate and pain, and that communities will overwhelmingly choose love in reaction to acts of hate and violence.
The first movement, “The Fallen”, is dedicated to the African-American victims of law-enforcement-involved shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. It begins with a patriotic fanfare celebrating the 4th of July and freedom. The movement then takes a dark turn on the 5th of July, when Alton Sterling was killed. The choir and featured soloists engage in a call and response discussing the victims who died at the hands of law enforcement. The choir repeats the line “Do not forget them” as the soloists continue to grapple with these tragic deaths. The movement concludes with the soloists and choir begging the listener to not forget these names on the 4th of July.
The second movement, “The Cities”, is dedicated to the victims of the police officer shootings in Dallas, Texas (July, 2016). The movement begins with dissonant chord clusters and the whispering of tragedy- stricken countries and cities. As the text turns to memorializing these victims, the harmonies become more sonorous and rich. The movement ends with the choir imitating muted strings as a featured soprano soloist laments how “nature cries out in pain” when these victims’ lives are tragically ended too early.
The third movement, “Pulse”, is dedicated to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida (June, 2016). A drum beats a steady pulse while the choir members start building the anthemic line “They will not destroy us” word by word. This middle section is a more hymn-like passage setting the line “Our pain will bring forth love”, with harmonies recalling the first movement. The movement ends with the opening anthemic statement built word by word. The movement concludes with a final striking of the drum.
Overall, this song cycle is an attempt to memorialize all victims of violence while trying to find purpose and hope in the face of overwhelming pain and loss.
I. The Fallen
II. The Cities
OPENING REFRAIN: An ounce of pain must leaven a pound of love.
On the Fourth of July we sang freedom with fireworks, parades, and apple pie
On the Fifth of July Alton Sterling was killed
He was the 135th
On the Sixth of July Philando Castile was killed
He was the 136th
A regiment of African-American men killed in 2016.
But who didn’t we sing about? Who died in darkness?
Sandra Bland—we sang her song, in vain.
Eric Garner—who else couldn’t breathe because there were no cameras?
Trayvon, Tamir—The children suffer for the sins of society
We must not forget them
We do not dare forget them
From behind the black velvet curtains of my eyelids
Rainbow tears stain my face.
Sing unto the Lord a new song
A song of despair and tears.
So many countries: France, Germany, Spain, Syria, The United States,
So many cities: Dallas, New York, Nice, Munich, Aleppo, Paris, Madrid.
But in each city a Tree of Life grows.
The branches canopy the world with love
And scatter their leaves across the land, trailing peace.
On each leaf is inscribed a memorial of the fallen.
When a son weeps for his father
It should be at the graveside of an elder
With wisdom etched into his face.
When a father weeps for his son
Nature cries out in pain.
They can’t destroy us all.
Our pain will bring forth love, even for those who take us
While our arms reach for angels.
They can’t destroy us all.
FINAL REFRAIN: An ounce of pain must leaven a pound of love.