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 through poetic metaphor of the suffering of repression. It inspires us to lift up our voices and speak out in sympathy. Author 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. And, there are other settings of this poem. Nonetheless, when I was commissioned  by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, I chose to set Dunbar’s powerful poem. I dedicated it to the memory of my mother, Harriet Evelyn Sommer Shatin, who took joy in all living things, and  through her life flew free of many conventions, pursuing her fascination and studies leading to a PhD in medical bacteriology at a time when that was both an exceedingly rare and odd pursuit for a woman.  Why the Caged Bird Sings is published by ECS Publishing, and can be ordered here.–JS


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