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Beyond the Years

Beyond the Years was commissioned by the Florence Symphony Orchestra in response to the horrific shooting on June 17, 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. The piece attempts to speak to the tragedy through the lens of a larger social and historical context. The five-movement arch form alternates slow and fast movements, and the texts are drawn from several sources with varying proximity to the Emanuel AME parish. Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Beyond the Years” provides the main framework for the piece. Dunbar, the son of a former slave writing at the turn of the twentieth century, expresses a powerful combination of sorrow, pain, and hope in this three-part poem that is set in the first, third, and fifth movements of the piece. The repetition of the phrase “Beyond the years” recalls the ongoing effort to grapple with recurring issues in a complicated history. Between these movements, two additional text sources draw more direct connections to the Emanuel AME community and the specific events of that summer. The second and fourth movements act as contrasting interludes in the overall arch structure and weave individual perspectives into the larger narrative. The second movement adapts phrases from Richard Harvey Cain’s 1868 speech addressing issues of land rights at the South Carolina Constitutional Convention. Cain, one of the first pastors of Emanuel AME in Charleston, a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention in 1868, and a representative from South Carolina in the 43rd and 45th Congresses, addresses many of the conflicts, assumptions, and fears that have been part of our continuing national conversation for well over a century. The fourth movement similarly paraphrases fragments from another speech, this time taking as its source material President Barack Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney in the immediate wake of the tragic 2015 shooting. As a whole, the piece strives to honor the nine victims of this specific event while acknowledging that many of the dynamics at play in this particular tragedy have been part of our complex national identity for many years and continue to challenge us today.

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