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Laura Kaminsky & Leah Maddrie: Right to Life

This week’s Song of the Day is hosted by Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer, the Artistic Director and Executive Director, respectively, of Five Boroughs Music Festival.

Every five years or so, we at 5BMF like to go all out and commission twenty composers to write a new song each about this wild, wonderful, gritty, overwhelming city we call our home. For our Five Borough Songbook, Vol. II we were delighted to have the amazing Laura Kaminsky on the roster, and she decided to work with her friend and fellow Bronx resident, poet Leah Maddrie. It was such a pleasure to get to know Leah, who came to several performances and participated in our Creator Chats as well.

The result of Laura and Leah’s collaboration was “Right to Life”, an intensely thought-provoking glimpse into some of the less glamorous parts of city life. Through Leah’s words and Laura’s setting, we come upon a seemingly mundane scene on a subway platform, but are soon forced to consider how unavailable the ‘American Dream’ is to so many. These women created a truly stirring work here, and we’re so grateful to have this song in our collection.

Coincidentally (or is it??), the baritone featured here is none other than Jorell Williams, who will appear in Laura’s NYFOS Next show on June 11 (got your tickets yet??).  Thomas Bagwell was the pianist, at the Brooklyn Premiere of our Songbook’s Volume II, a couple years back:

Andrea Clearfield: You Bring Out the Doctor in Me

The final song of the day for this week is Andrea Clearfield’s arresting You Bring Out the Doctor in Me from the 2013 AIDS Quilt Songbook.

The AIDS Quilt Songbook (AQSB) is an ongoing, collaborative song cycle that had its initial premiere in Alice Tully Hall in 1992, a truly desperate time for New York and many other cities hit hard by the AIDS epidemic. The project was conceived by the late HIV-positive baritone William Parker as a way to raise money and awareness, as well as to sing songs specifically about the disease, something which had not been done in classical music before then. At that time there were no medications to fight this disease, and a feeling of hopelessness and rage infused the original collection of songs with an undeniable power. 

Last December, I was in Manhattan for the premiere of my NYFOS-commissioned work At The Door (which will make a reprise this year on Feb. 20), and was lucky enough to catch this specific performance at the 25th anniversary concert at National Sawdust. My mentor from my time at the Peabody Conservatory, Kevin Puts, wrote a wonderful new work with his frequent collaborator, Mark Campbell, for the event, and I knew I had to be there. So, I made my way to Brooklyn with my friend (and wonderful composer), Trey Makler for the show, and as soon we both heard this song, with Slattery’s intense and penetrating delivery and Bagwell’s crisp and antiseptic underpinning, we both looked at each other, eyes like saucers. Clearfield’s evocative setting of Rafael Campo’s piercing text absolutely stole the show: the typewriter-like and dramatic vocal line, the heart monitor figures in the piano that make their way throughout the piece, and Clearfield’s succinct sense of drama make this a work that needs to be experienced, perhaps more than ever with the recent advent of PrEP, and the continual loss of those who lived through the AIDS epidemic firsthand: the stories from this era—and those lost to it—must be preserved, and the AQSB is helping keep these vital memories alive:

You bring out the health care proxy in me.
Do not resuscitate
Do not incubate me.
You bring out the chaplain praying in me.
The IV bag hanging, glassy fluids in me.
The nurse in white sneakers toileting me.
The morphine drip, the dream of you dreaming me.
Maybe I’m dying. Maybe.

Tenor Michael Slattery and  pianist Thomas Bagwell perform Andrea Clearield’s You Bring Out the Doctor in Me from the AIDS Quilt Songbook 25th anniversary concert at National Sawdust.

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