Why the Caged Bird Sings

Instrumentation: SATB chorus 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

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, gained fame for his writing in many media, 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 again. 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 dedicated it to the memory of my mother, Harriet Evelyn Sommer Shatin, through her life flew free of many conventions and encouraged her four daughters to do the same. She herself achieved the PhD in medical bacteriology at a time when that was an exceedingly  unlikely and difficult pursuit for a woman.  Why the Caged Bird Sings is published by ECS Publishing, and can be ordered here –JS


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