Forward Into Light

2020

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Program Note:

Forward Into Light is a meditation on perseverance, bravery, and alliance. The piece was inspired by the American women suffragists -- Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Frances E.W. Harper, Ida B. Wells, Zitkála-Šá, and Mabel Lee Ping-Hua, to name but a few – who devoted their lives to the belief that women were human beings and therefore entitled to equal rights and protections under the law of the United States of America.

I wrote the music thinking about what it means to believe in something so deeply that one is willing to endure harassment, deprivation, assault, incarceration, hunger, force-feedings, death threats, and life endangerment in order to fight for it. 

Formally, the piece was inspired by the idea of synergistic interpersonal partnerships, which lay at the heart of the American women’s suffrage movement. The best-documented example of this was the alchemical relationship between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. “I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them,” Stanton said of Anthony. “We did better work together than either could alone…and together we have made arguments that have stood unshaken by the storms of thirty long years; arguments that no man has answered.”

Forward Into Light opens with three motivic ideas: a pair of ascending sixth intervals in the violins, an undulating quintuplet figure in the harp, and a lyrical line in close canon led by the violas. The trio of ideas coax each other forward, tentatively at first, and then more urgently, as tremors of adversity intensify the stakes. New voices join the conversation, challenging and subverting the original ideas to explore new collaborative solutions, united in the search for a strength that only a defined, mutual purpose can yield.

Forward Into Light features a musical quote from “March of the Women,” composed in 1910 by British composer and suffragette Dame Ethel Smyth, with words by Cicely Hamilton. The anthem of the women’s suffrage movement, “March of the Women” was sung in homes and halls, on streets and farms, and on the steps of the United States Capitol. It’s briefly alluded to by the oboes in close canon following each of the narrative’s first two arcs, and then precedes the ending as a recorded sample, performed here by Werca's Folk, a women's choir based in Northumberland, England, under the direction of Sandra Kerr (used with permission.)

The title of the piece derives from a suffrage slogan made famous by the banner that suffragist Inez Milholland carried while riding a white horse to lead the National American Woman Suffrage Association parade on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C.:

“Forward, out of error
Leave behind the night
Forward through the darkness
Forward into light!"

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