Instrumentation: Tenor, Percussion
Video from March 20, 2022
Performers: Neal Long, Luke Helker
Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man's life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter's dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.
- William Butler Yeats
2020 has been a difficult year. What started off as a hopeful turn of a new decade turned to despair and hopelessness as the worst pandemic in a century stripped away any sense of normalcy. In what is also an election year, it seemed that the one positive to come from this disease might be that our country would find some unity and put aside petty political differences. Sadly, it seems that was too much to hope for; this pandemic has been one more thing for our politicians and leaders to argue about, tearing us apart even further. With horrible natural disasters, continued foreign tensions, and violent reminders of the racism that still haunts our country adding to the ongoing pandemic, 2020 has been a grueling test for everyone.
Amid these circumstances, when I began searching for a text to write a piece, I felt I needed to write something that reflected the difficulty of this year. I felt that this poem by William Butler Yeats offered a good reminder of humanity's foolish sense of immortality and invincibility. Offering a historical and spiritual viewpoint, Yeats conveys that no human has ever lived on this Earth forever, and no human ever will. All the monuments and buildings that we erect will one day be gone. Wars and bickering have always been a part of human existence, and leaders in power have always tried to wrench it away from each other. Diseases and pandemics have come before, and they will come again. No matter how intelligent or technologically advanced that humans get, we cannot change these simple realities of living on Earth.
I attempted to convey these same observations through my writing of this piece. The vocal lines are not traditional for the most part, instead offering haunting narration of our predicament. The percussionist contributes harsh attacks and intense rhythmic language to color the voice, and the two of them work together to convey the same idea in music that Yeats shows in his writing. It is my hope that the listener might hear this, and remember these realities. It will not offer much relief in enduring the present difficulties, but it might help in knowing that this too shall pass.
Completed: October 2020