National Break-Up Song


Instrumentation: three voices, piano
Duration: 5:30


What to make of that 2020 moment? What to feel? What to believe? And how on earth to proceed with work as a composer? I’ve never before felt such palpable fear about the future, or such a sense of impending breakage. Break-up Song is conceived as a future artifact from this disturbing time, a “don’t leave me” song about a country. The notion of the primordial got me going, I suppose, in that the chanting of “lock her up,” for example, as well as the protesting by mothers in Portland, Oregon, seem both to represent something primordial. Something elemental. I thought about Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as a piece that conjures the primordial, a piece that was met with fear. Part of the idea here is to simply set out some evidence of this era, without much governing attitude, because how to respond? We are dumbfounded. The silliness of insisting that someone is “not electable,” for example, strikes me as both funny and dead serious. I am inclined to borrow a phrase from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and say that it is my fervent hope that in some future time, and preferably soon, the currently palpable feeling of imminent national break-up, along with the incomprehensible limitations we seem to want to insist on placing on each other’s humanity, will seem like the quaint if dire issues of a less enlightened past. Like a riot from a hundred years ago.

Performance history: What a tale of woe! National Break-Up Song was originally intended to be performed in March of 2021 as part of a program called Was it True by Mirror Visions Ensemble, who commissioned it. The pandemic forced a postponement to Sunday, April 3, 2022 in Merkin Hall, New York, NY. Some six months ahead of this new concert date, an even newer social truth arrived in the form of atrocity fatigue. Apparently, no one wants to hear about it! Who can blame them? I’m sure, though, that as black as this era has been, it will not turn out to have been an actual black hole. Stay tuned for a performance someday, somewhere, somehow.