Here's The Thing

HERE'S THE THING, FOR 8 SOLO AMPLIFIED SINGERS, LARGE SYMPHONIC CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA

Words by Samiya Bashir

Premiered by The Washington Chorus, featuring Sphinx's EXIGENCE Vocal Ensemble, Dr Eugene Rogers, conductor

 

3(pic).2.2(bcl).2 - 4.2.3(btr).0 - timp+3perc - pno - str - solo singers SSAATTBB - symphonic chorus SATB

Duration: 12'

Here's The Thing - midiJulian Wachner
00:00 / 12:11

In 2019, we were commissioned to write a celebratory choral-orchestral work to help usher in the newly appointed Artistic Director (as of then, yet unnamed and not yet identified) of The Washington Chorus. The work was to be performed during the 60th anniversary season of the chorus at the Kennedy Center. The commission required the use of a Beethoven-size orchestra, so it was immediately clear that the final movement of Beethoven’s epic 9th symphony could serve as the model for both the instrumentation and energy of the work. The deadline for the text was February 1st, 2020 and the deadline for the score was August 1st, 2020. 

 

We started discussions in the Fall of 2019, Samiya being in Rome as a recipient of the Rome Prize, and Julian was working in New York City and travelling around conducting. We hit it off right away. Julian ordered all of Samiya’s published books, and Samiya downloaded and listened to Julian’s compositions and conversations on-line. We both fell in love with each other’s work and couldn’t wait to create something joyful, uplifting, and forward-thinking for our friends in Washington.

 

Then came the pandemic. Samiya was in Rome as Italy was hard hit by the virus and forced to return to the USA, finding refuge in Cape Cod, just as the virus was taking over the Northeast of the country. Julian took his family to New Hampshire to try to shield them all, but in particular his 3-year-old son, Tallis from the chaos and isolation that was to become apartment dwelling in New York. Both of us remained nomads for the next four months. Then came the murder of George Floyd and the national outrage that followed.

 

Throughout this period from January 2020 to July 2020, we stayed in constant contact working and re-working the text and music until we came up with what seemed an appropriate engagement of “new beginnings” both for the cultural moment in which we found ourselves and for the wider world in which we might all continue to live. Poetry lead music and music lead text. So much so that the final piece has a musical statement with lyrics AND a stand-alone poem to accompany the work, almost a distillation of the musical composition into a purer, cleaner rendering of the meaning of our creation. That poem can be found below.

 

The musical composition is set for Beethoven orchestra plus piano and marimba, and calls for 8 amplified solo voices. These voices can be pulled from the chorus or could be additional professional soloists. The work’s driving rhythmic energy and chaotic yet sometimes beautiful sound world intends to emulate what has been swirling in so many of the world’s population’s heads these past months, and most likely, for months and years to come. The piece opens and closes with a solitary alto voice, one that Julian thought represented Samiya’s own personal voice. 

 

Samiya Bashir and Julian Wachner - July, 2020

Flèche

LYRICS

 

HERE’S THE THING: things fall apart.

I am not saying I’m a prophet but

I know the meaning of a moment like ours. 

Burning. I’m almost sure

I’m here. Transformed. Torn apart.

 

Alone. I burn. 

I listen for the wind. 

Pressed by time.  Six feet back.

I find the me who’s tall as a gum tree, 

the me with copper hair. 

I am an opening. A milepost. Surviving.

 

Eyes open, heart full of doubt.

 

I strike my fireballs and burn. 

 

Sort of dreaming. 

 

I am volcano.  I am oil-slicked river. 

Stripped of skin. 

I am fluent in the press of time. 

 

Voice raw and syrup stripped. 

Thriving. No sound stays innocent. 

A footpath. A corridor. 

A clearing and yes the bushes burn like skyfire. 

 

And still I decide to survive. I claim every sunrise.

 

Everyday 

Average 

Numbness of the

End of the world 

 

(stupid – boring – hmmmm – uhhh (breath))

 

If there is intelligent life where is it?

 

HERE’S THE THING:

I’m not supposed to talk about this

HERE’S THE THING: 

(no sound is innocent)

Though it may seem simple enough

I feel so raw these days

Stripped of Skin

Blind as a sewer rat

Skulking in the dark

Raw as a baby rat – mother rat – 

rich rat – breadline rat – poor rat – hungry rat – full rat – sewer rat

 

MATTER OF FACT: 

I was sort of sleeping and then I was on fire

She was sort of sleeping and then she was on fire

 

I burned

I mean – sleeping and then we were on fire

Burned

Thriving

I’m a volcano 

no sound is innocent

I skulk away a little more each day

I’m burning – ARE YOU LISTENING?

 

I AM: melting 

looking at you  

listening for you 

can you hear me

first I’m in a dream

and then

can you see me

 

I’m on fire – how do we survive

Sure! Blame the apocalypse!

This having a body how do I survive this

We are river – We are fire

And then we are torn apart

I am fluent in Fire

Thriving. 

Burned into brick road. 

I am fluent

In fire

In indigo miseries

In the absence of heat

In how time presses a body

Fluent in the need to dance.

 

I am an opening. A milepost. A sign.

Triumphant. 

I scream but words burn like skyfire.

 

Here’s the thing I’m not supposed to say

I decide to survive. 

I claim every sunrise.

***

Here’s the Thing - Samiya Bashir

 

Here’s the thing: things fall apart.

 

I am sort of sleeping then 

I am on fire. Undone. Burned. 

Stripped of skin I feel so 

raw these days. Flattened.

Full of doubt. Numb. 

 

Rats thrive in sewers so

maybe I'm thriving. It may seem 

simple enough but my dreams don’t 

say so. This I think I know: no one 

notices me. Lost. Alone. Blind 

as a sewer rat. Six feet back. Gelatinous. 

Raw as a baby rat. Shook. Under-done. 

Too-full rat still hungry. Rich rat swimming

sewage. Breadline rat. Baker rat. Transformed. Stuck 

in a well. Thriving. Burned into brick 

road. Milepost. Sign. 

 

Triumphant. I scream but 

words burn like skyfire. Clammy. 

Street rat. Fell in a hole. Stuck

in a well. I rattle the cages of our

children. Everywhere else 

is empty. I am fluent 

in fire. Fluent in indigo miseries.

 

I am fluent in the absence of heat.

A rat on the street. Sudden and melt. 

I am fluent in how time presses 

a body. Here’s the thing I’m not 

supposed to say I saw others skulk

the dark like me. Simple enough. 

I skulk away a little more each day.

Maybe there’s intelligent life 

but I’m not it. How will we survive this

 

having a body? Trying to be 

intelligent life. Fireball struck and stuck.

I study the crows who know this—having 

a body to fly. 

 

Almost a dream. A sign 

you’re not supposed to notice. A path.

Who can I be? Blame the apocalypse.

Its melt. Its bends. It never ends.

 

Thing is: things fall apart.

 

I am not saying I’m a prophet but

I know the meaning of a moment

like ours. Burning. I’m almost sure 

I’m here. Transformed. Torn apart. 

Average. Boring. Humdrum. No sound 

stays innocent. Numb. Everyday 

 

the end of the world is now again. Normal. 

I burn and remember having a body. How  

it feels. Cold. If I hold no beauty in this slapdash 

world, then tuck me away from the heat of the day. 

 

Alone. I burn. Blame the humdrum 

numbness of the end of the world. I listen 

for the wind. Intelligent life: where is it? No sound 

an innocent means. Route. Way. I am 

 

not saying I’m a prophet but I always travel 

slightly singed. Pressed by time. Six feet back 

I find the me who’s tall as a gum tree, the me 

with copper hair. Causeway me. Opening. 

Expanse.

 

Eyes open, heart full of doubt.

I strike my fireballs and burn. Sort of 

dreaming. Now volcano. Now oil-slicked 

river. Stripped of skin. Fluent 

in the press of time. Body clammed. Voice 

raw and syrup stripped. Eyes open. Sewer rat. 

Thriving. No sound stays innocent. Rats. 

 

Footpath. Corridor. Clearing and

yes the bushes burn like skyfire. And 

I decide to survive. Claim every sunrise. 

I am dark as earth. Now I am me with the 

bright yellow hair.  Me with a normal 

girth – wait –

 

Normal? Do I know that word? Did I ever? Is it

normal to hang from a tree? Is normal an ability

to breathe? Are normal these panic attacks? 

Does normal stand whole bodies back?  Tucked 

away from the heat of the day, listen for how to survive 

this body. Face twisted. Slightly singed. Fueled 

by my own crisped flames. Condemned.

 

I know the meaning of a moment but here’s the thing:

Am I intelligent life? Pffft. How could I tell? The crows know.

I know I’m not road. I’m doorway. And when things fall apart 

again I’ll be here—my rectangular shade of blue. I’m not 

supposed to talk about transformation though. Not the me 

with the hollow cheeks. The me with the blood-red stride. 

Fluent in the need to dance. 

 

Me with moles in fourteen places. Here. 

Having a body. Me with three nose rings. Normal.

I grasp for a branch. Normal. Me with the war wounds. 

 

I thrive. Gutter rat. The burning quiet of stars. 

Who else can I be? The crows know.

Flèche