About this Piece
One morning, as I was considering the topic of this commission, I decided to search for the number of gun violence related deaths in 2020. That September morning, the number read: 523. That number struck a haunting chord within me – a chord of intense emotions of devastation, hopelessness, and grief. I was in disbelief of that number then and today, just weeks later, as I write these notes, I recognize that number has increased.
From the onset of these themes haunting me, I have had a fear of sharing this work. Not only is this a difficult subject to write about, but it feels like it is not my place to make a statement. I am from small-town Minnesota and never experienced the loss of a loved one in this way. I cannot possibly understand the grief of those who have lost loved ones to gun violence, nor do I have a way to relate to those in that situation. Additionally, I have a tourist view of Chicago. I have family that lives in Wheaton and my sister lived in downtown for four to five years. Chicago is a beautiful and amazing city. Yet, these themes haunt me, and the title alone brings me tremendous anguish. My deepest intent with this piece is to share these raw emotions of grief. The listener may not find any beauty anywhere within it and this work may even be called ugly and horrifying in every sense of the words. I did not want to write a caricature of Chicago, I wanted to be real about my feelings and the possible feelings of others.
523 is basis of the entire work, but acknowledges that this number is not constant, but rising. The number translates to F – D – E-flat, which in prime form [0, 1, 3] serves as the basis for the melodic material of the piece. The work’s harmony is almost entirely built upon fully diminished 7th chords which continually build the tension from the onset, but never resolve it.
The most memorable moments for me include rehearsal 5 and the end of the piece. After an incredibly tense section at rehearsal 4, rehearsal 5 begins a dissonant chorale in the low winds accompanied by police sirens, whistles and as many cymbals and destructive sounds the percussion can muster. Upon arriving at two measures before rehearsal 6, this sound should be deafening. Instead of ending on a huge chord, the piece ends with a timpani solo, obstinately playing a repeated measure. The score’s instructions are to play this measure for the number of gun violence deaths that have occurred in the calendar week leading up to the performance. This may be 1, 4, 20, or even 30. It is up to the conductor whether they will inform the audience of this before the piece begins, or if they will allow them to sit in their grief, waiting for the piece to end. So often, the reality of violence in our world is brushed aside or covered up. With this piece, and all of its violence and expression of grief, I wish to face the reality and recognize the grief of the many lives that have been lost. Let this piece serve as a time to grieve together.
View Perusal Score