New Understandings, for brass quintet (2017)
Commissioned and recorded by Harmonia Brass Quintet.
Matthew Hubner, trumpet
Lucas Schurman, trumpet
Kathryn Marks, horn
Thomas Warnock, trombone
Alek Mansouri, bass trombone
In the spring of 2017, myself and several other composers were approached by Harmonia Brass Quintet for a commission opportunity. They requested a brass quintet piece following this prompt: "Write about your personal response to the 2016 US election."
My initial reaction to the election, and all of the political tension leading up to it, was simply "Why?" Why would so many people, including people that I knew, trusted, and respected, vote for a man like Donald Trump, who, on his campaign trail, disrespected so many marginalized groups that live in America? I had to find the answer to this question, I had to understand where Trump supporters were coming from.
So I started reading. I read about the oxycontin crisis that is devastating rural areas, and how many of these areas suffer from a severe shortage of health care. I read about Southern and Midwestern culture, and became fascinated by the Sacred Harp tradition, which uses song to bring communities closer together. I followed Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind Humans of New York, as he travelled to Macomb County, Michigan in the wake of the election and interviewed members of the community on the street about their lives (without ever mentioning politics), and I read the stories of these Americans who live hard lives, often day to day, paycheck to paycheck, without much hope for the future.
I started to realize that many Americans who voted red in 2016 were not the horrible MAGA-hat wearing, Nazi saluting people that I saw on TV. They were regular people, just like you and I, with day jobs, friends and family that they desperately cared about, trying their best to live with some terrible cards that they've been dealt. I came away from this experience feeling heartbroken for my country, but with an inkling of hope that if I could empathize with people with vastly different life experiences than mine, then perhaps with time, love, and understanding, they could do the same for people that they once claimed to vehemently hate.
This piece uses a beautiful Sacred Harp hymn, "Prospect", as its main musical material. The theme is presented, then twisted, but eventually comes back to be stronger in the end, just as I hope America will become stronger and more unified.