Still? (2017)

Soprano, baritone, violin, and piano
Text by Alice Duer Miller and George Santayana
Duration: ca. 4′
Commissioned by Nicole Leupp Hanig
Premiere April 6, 2017

This duet was written during a season of modern political turmoil, and the two texts used as lyrics speak clearly from a century past on topics that continue to trouble Americans today. Alice Duer Miller (1874 – 1942), an American feminist poet and writer whose works influenced popular conversation and political opinions about suffrage, reminds us that equality is something to fight for in her sharp poem given voice by the Statue of Liberty. Meanwhile, the wise aphorism of George Santayana (1863 – 1952), an American philosopher and writer, speaks clearly on the importance of understanding the scope of the complete historical struggle in order to move forward. This combination of social commentary, a rallying cry, and sage advice, couldn’t feel more current.

Many rich conflicts arose in setting these texts: between the words and voices of a woman and a man, between the undulating river of time heard in the running notes of the piano and the simpler, evocative and sometimes eery lines of the violin, and between conflicting key centers of A minor and F# pentatonic/Eb minor shifting first one way and then another, sometimes abruptly, sometimes more gracefully, as if two different perspectives were being experienced at the same time.

The Statue by Alice Duer Miller
Be not deceived, my daughters, I’m not she – The wingèd Goddess, who sets nations free.
I am that Liberty, which when men win They think that others’ seeking is a sin;
I am that Liberty which men attain And clip her wings lest she should fly again:
I am that Liberty which all your brothers Think good for them and very bad for others.
Therefore they made me out of bronze, and hollow, Immovable, for fear that I might follow
Some fresh rebellion, some new victim’s plea; And so they set me on a rock at sea,
Welded my torch securely in my hand Lest I should pass it on, without command.
I am a milestone, not an inspiration; And if my spirit lingers in this nation,
If it still flickers faintly o’er these waters, It is your spirit, my rebellious daughters.

“Those who cannot remember [history] are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)