Why the Caged Bird Sings

Instrumentation: SATB divisi and piano
Duration: 4:45
Commission: Young People’s Chorus of NYC
Premiere: 03/24/07
Young People Chorus of NYC Honors Workshop, conducted by Francisco Nunez
Park Avenue Christian Church
New York, NY

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Program Note:
Why the Caged Bird Sings, for chorus and piano, is a setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “Sympathy.” Dunbar, the son of ex-slaves, contributed in multiple genres, including poetry, plays, and novels. Born in 1872, he died in 1906. His poem speaks of the suffering of repression and requires us to lift up our voices in sympathy. Maya Angelou used the line “I know why the caged bird sings,” as the title of her autobiographical novel, and also of her own poem of the same name. There are a number of musical settings of the poem. Nonetheless, when I was commissioned by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, I chose to set it in my own way. My setting is not pretty; it has anger and it hits on the bars and it has anguish at the repression still experienced by so many. I dedicate it to the memory of my mother, Harriet Evelyn Sommer Shatin, whose life flew free of many conventions. She encouraged each of her four daughters to find their own path. She herself received the Ph.D. in medical bacteriology from Boston University at a time when that was an exceedingly unlikely and difficult pursuit for a woman.  Why the Caged Bird Sings is published by E.C. Schirmer. –JS

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