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Why We Must Change are musical settings of the poetry of Alice Walker (b. 1944). These songs are described as contemporary due to the relevance to topics of today (2014). A central message is the connection formed between those who suffer tragedy, and those who endeavor to form a common bond, to show compassion, to join with strength.
The first poem, "Word Reaches Us," is dedicated to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of gun violence in Tucson, AZ, in 2011. The opening phrase of Word reaches us that you are sleeping refers to the period of time, directly after the shooting, when the victim lay in a coma. Her tragedy becomes our shared suffering. Addressing her as Sister, whom I never met, we thank her for reminding us...that we must change.
In the musical setting, refrains of We pray for healing, healing frame this song. These words are sung in a low range, on few pitches, as a prayer in recitative style. Through the course of the song, the phrases rise to the exclamation of Gabrielle's name. The highest point is reached with the words Sister, whom I never met. The music then descends and quiets, returning to the opening phrases of healing. The piano accompaniment of gently repeated eighth-notes might be heard as the pulsing hear of the sleeping victim.
"Every Revolution Needs Fresh Poems" reminds us that poets take chances, poets go without sleep and face the dark, and poets disregard conventions. Therefore, it is poetry that will lead us the change. The musical expression of these words comprises an agitated piano solo (with some especially fresh chords), with readings interspersed. This is a rhythmic piece - restless, always on the move.
"May it be Said of Me" opens with pulsing eighth-note patterns, similar to the first song. In this case, the heartbeat is our own. For our actions are led by the heart. The effort is to embrace the suffering of another as one embraces the pain within. There is no distance between humanity. May it be said of me that I shared your sorrow. May it be said of me...that when you rose from your knees...I joined you...singing.
This song features many added-tone chord clusters. These express the group sentiment - may it be said of me, may it be said of any one of us, that we could show compassion. The music rises, as does the message of the poem, The climactic final words, I joined you - singing, lead to phrases from the song "How Can I Keep From Singing" (new music), which provide a celebratory conclusion.
We must listen. We must show compassion. We must change.
Notes by the composer