Detroit (2013)

8 minutes 30 seconds
First concert performance October 6, 2013, Cathedral Church of St. Peter, Detroit, MI
Staged in July 2014 by the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler, Berlin
String quartet version premiered January 2015, Boston University

Recording by Margot Rood, soprano; Emily Marvosh, alto; Joe Turbessi, piano.

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The wheels looked like bicycle wheels today.
– Paul B. Shirley, b. July 30, 1912

I wish it would rain, ‘cause so badly I wanna go outside.
– The Temptations, 1967

How still the garden seems.
– Original text by the composer, 2013 

Program Note
In May 2013, I visited Michigan and had conversations with regular Detroiters about the life of their city. These conversations revealed three distinct moments of creative growth, decline, and rebirth that shape the way residents understand their city. The first was the golden age of the automobile industry in the 1920s; the second was the flourishing of Motown music in the 1950s and 60s. And last, current residents are mindful of the fact that they live during a period of great uncertainty, but also a period transformation and renewal.

To create this intergenerational work, I chose minimal fragments of text that represent these three moments. A former assembly line worker describes the wheels on a Ford Model A; The Temptations record “I Wish It Would Rain” on the eve of the 1967 race riots; and Detroiters today reclaim unused city blocks to plant urban gardens and farms. In the work, each line is sung in multiple ways and combined in counterpoint; the music therefore echoes the city’s capacity for unexpected renewal and rebirth.

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