The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Sing Me Awake

A tender and rhapsodic meditation on our return to life after grief and loss

Words by Gregory Orr

A radiant setting of one of Gregory Orr’s most poignant poems. Both lament and celebration, this powerful and hopeful work looks head-on at all that has been lost, as well as our own transcendent response to that loss.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

I’m currently preparing a blog post/podcast episode that will include the upcoming composer note for this piece. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from Poetry Is ‘Concentrated Testimony’ of Being Human, a profile of poet Gregory Orr published by PBS NewsHour on September 30, 2013:

“Poet Gregory Orr rhapsodizes on a theme he has explored for nearly a decade: the “beloved,” the things we love.

Of course, what we love can change over time, he says. “It can make you crazy by…shifting from one thing to another and yet, of course, that’s also dazzling,” he told the PBS NewsHour…

The “beloved” can be any object of affection: a person, a place, a pet. And it is within those targets of love — and our relationships to them — that Orr finds meaning for his life. “Without any sense [of] the beloved, it seems to me the world goes dead, or the world goes just to self, which is even worse,” Orr said.

The original inspiration was a phrase that sprung from his imagination: “the book that is the resurrection of the body of the beloved, which is the world.” Orr envisioned a collection of all the poems and songs ever written in the history of human existence. The invisible anthology’s purpose was to serve as human testimony about what it is like to be alive.”

Text

Untitled [This is what was bequeathed us]

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

Gregory Orr
From How Beautiful the Beloved by Gregory Orr. © 2009 by Gregory Orr. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press

Performers

Performers

Premiere: CorVoce (St. Paul Vocal Forum) / Karin Barrett (St. Paul, MN)
Voces Solis / Ryan Keeling (Pittsburgh, PA)