To view an old painting or to sing an old song is to commune with the past. In our oratorio Am I Born, we sought to explore the mystical aspects of that communion.
Am I Born combined inspirations from two 19th century sources. The first was Francis Guy’s 1820 painting “Winter Scene In Brooklyn”—which depicts an area now in the footprint of the Brooklyn Bridge. The second was Ananias Davisson’s 1816 hymn Idumea, which, like our work, begins by asking: “am I born to die?”
In our oratorio, the soprano soloist gives voice to Guy’s painting. Over decades the painting draws consciousness from viewers visiting the museum. The conscious painting eventually pours from its frame into the cold night of modern day Brooklyn, confused and alone as past and present collide. At this moment, Davisson’s question is modified to ask “am I born?”
Am I Born marks the first time that our work engaged concurrently with questions of mortality, the mystical, and an imagined inter-dimensional nature in art. We further explored these ideas in our 2016 opera JFK, and they continue to be preoccupations in our current work.
Cast in seven connected movements, Am I Born was originally composed in 2011 for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Brooklyn Philharmonic. This performance marks the world premiere of the Trinity-commissioned SATB version of the work, and we are grateful to Julian Wachner, Melissa Attebury, Melissa Baker, and the entire Trinity team for affording us this opportunity to revisit an old friend.
David T. Little