Sarah Whitnah- violin, Ysmael Reyes- flute, Brian Ebert- clarinet, Andrew Brown- cello
I am interested in how we, as Americans, look at riots and civil unrest in other countries as opposed to the growing number of these incidents in our own. Citizens take to the streets, are attacked by government and police forces, and we look at it as something that happens somewhere else. I am terrified by the way our news media sensationalizes, over simplifies, race baits, and continues to marginalize those that would speak out abroad.
I am also baffled at how we, in the U.S., look at riots and civil unrest in our own country. . Police brutality is not a story made up by people that should’ve just ‘acted better.’ Citizens are taking to the streets more and more often. I am terrified by the way news media sensationalizes, over simplifies, race baits, and continues to marginalize those that would speak out in our Democracy.
This composition combines ‘traditional’ material for the quartet (flute, clarinet, violin and cello) with manipulated recordings of protests throughout the American content. This audio content is taken from news broadcasts and on the street recordings in Oakland, Baltimore, Ferguson, Mexico, Occupy, and the 2001 riots in Argentina, where the people caused the president to resign.
The work starts with a rhythmically driven unison idea that serves as a ritornello for the entire piece. A more introspective section follows with samples asking “what is that was me?” and “this can never be washed away.”
The ritornello returns and then devolves into minimalist patterns that prepare the next audio material- a plea from Michael Brown’s father which is overridden by the typical venom spewed by one of America’s most vile ‘news’ sources and the privileged race baiters that pose as anchors. The minimalist version of the ritornello returns to add to the confusion and the section ends with an Occupy mic check.
The players trade solos set up by the rhythmic pattern of the mic checks and the audience gets involved in a cacerolazo- a Latin American protest idea where people create noise by banging pots, pans and utensils together to demand attention. Audio clips of various riots are fed into the chaos until the police issue a warning and then fire on the crowd. In the subsequent ‘silence’ the violin returns with a melody from earlier in the piece. I actually plagiarized one of my earlier works for this melody. How Does This Keep Happening is a solo violin work lamenting the baffling number of school shootings we have all come to accept as normal.
The title is in reference to a Dr. King quote. “A Riot is the language of the unheard.” Feeling as if you are voiceless or unheard, is, to me, one of the most enraging feelings. On a large scale how could a community, that has been marginalized for so long, show its displeasure? How could it be heard other than to riot? I also recognize these issues as complex and possibly without solutions. As part of the status quo (hetero white male), I understand that when it comes to issues of race, poverty, and the behavior of law enforcement that I am living with a privilege that others do not have. That being said, I don’t know what the answers are, and I wonder if my voice is actually welcome at the tables. To a much lesser degree, I too feel voiceless. Empathetic without answers.