Seven Last Words of the Unarmed
Jason Michael Webb
Listening to Seven Last Words of the Unarmed can be uncomfortable. As you listen, I ask that you try to remain open. It can be easy to let a spirit of defensiveness pollute the experience of the piece. I ask that you revisit the last moments of these men with fresh hearts:
Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., the retired Marine who accidentally pressed his Life Alert necklace which recorded the police calling him a n***er before he was killed. (“Officer, why do you have your guns out?”)
Trayvon Martin: the teenage boy with his bag of Skittles being chased in his own neighborhood. (“What are you following me for?”)
Amadou Diallo: the young immigrant who called his mother in Guinea after he had saved up enough money to pursue a degree in computer science. (“Mom, I’m going to college.”)
Michael Brown: the recent high school graduate and amateur musician whose body lay baking in the street for four hours before being taken to the coroner. (“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting!”)
Oscar Grant III: the young father (of a 4-year-old girl) who was shot in the back while handcuffed in a prone position at Fruitvale Station. (“You shot me! You shot me.”)
John Crawford: the other young father who was purchasing a BB gun for his son in a Walmart in the open carry state of Ohio. (“It’s not real.”)
Eric Garner: the 43-year-old grandfather who was choked to death on camera on the streets of New York City. (“I can’t breathe.”)
When the music is over, let us continue to listen. Let us listen to each other with love and hope for a more just future. Thank you.
Sanctum explores the sound of improvisation in Holiness-preaching traditions. I draw inspiration from recorded sermons, The Praying Slave Lady by Pastor Shirley Caesar and The Eagle Stirs Her Nest by Reverend C. L. Franklin, and Reverend Charles Albert Tindley’s hymn, Stand By Me. Included are the voices of Marlene Pinnock and of activists in Ferguson, Missouri from 2014. By employing techniques of layered repetition, rhythmic intensity, sounds of moaning and whooping, Sanctum invokes solace found in the midst of persecution and tribulation.
My Name: A Reflection of Home
My Name is a song I wrote thinking about the transatlantic slave trade and what it meant to be going about your day then suddenly abducted into horrible circumstances.
Systems intentionally created to steal you. Abuse you. Use you. Break your soul and have you behave in line or risk even more horror.
Humans hurting. Displacing. Buying. Selling.
Killing in such a way that killing yourself might be grace.
In this journey I think about what could happen if someone finds you before you are to far gone.
Listening to Courtney Bryan’s powerful and emotional Sanctum I felt something… It was the fresh air of knowing who we are and how to be… “Out in the street playing like I’m alive…”
Joy, Life, Loving, Living, Falling Down, Making Mistakes, Living, Breathing
Handed up from our ancestors as they navigated the lies and extreme violence of the founding fathers of the United States of America who had no idea about Freedom, Justice and Equality. But knew a lot about stealing, raping, torture, exploitation and creating a country based in white supremacist goals and leadership.
“Out in the street playing like I can Fly…”
We have never recovered from an economic system based on slavery. We still live off of the idea that much of the earth’s resources are disposable and foundational to the power of a few humans. Courtney Bryan’s Sanctum expresses what must be said out loud about our right now conditions grown from the birth of this country. My Name swings around in a circle and looks in the eyes of those who are love depleted creating chaos and calls out the agony. We keep moving the circle to source our knowing, our love, our joy, our togetherness. We imagine that someone will ring an alarm if we are missing. We hold that that is a calling our name.
They are looking for us.
They will find us and bring us home.
AMEN! was commissioned by the University of Michigan Symphony Band and is a homage to my family’s four generational affiliation with the Pentecostal church. My intent is to re-create the musical experience of an African American Pentecostal church service that I enjoyed being a part of while growing up in this denomination.
Pentecostal denominations, such as: Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.), Pentecostal Assemblies of God, Apostolic, Holiness Church, among many others, are known for their exuberant outward expressions of worship. The worship services in these churches will often have joyous dancing, spontaneous shouting, and soulful singing. The music in these worship services is a vital vehicle in fostering a genuine spiritual experience for the congregation.
The three movements in AMEN! are performed without break to depict how the different parts of a worship services flow into the next. The title, AMEN!, refers to the plagal cadence or “Amen” cadence (IV-I), which is the focal point of the climax in the final movement. Along with heavily syncopated rhythms and interjecting contrapuntal lines, this cadence modulates up by half step until we reach a frenzied state, emulating a spiritually heightened state of worship.
Say Her Name
As a Sonic Conceptual Performing Artist and Composer, my mission includes creating music-based cultural works that serve as both salve and shield. The African American Policy Forum’s (AAPF) #SayHerName campaign to increase awareness of police killings of Black women and girls and other forms of gendered racialized violence against us galvanized me as an artist. The #SayHerName campaign deeply inspires me because it seeks to change the narratives about police brutality of Black folk in order to center the voices and experience of cis and transgender Black women and girls. This is no small thing. The campaign is rooted in Black feminist desires and demands that we re-imagine what safety and protection look like and mean for Black women and girls.
Jhetti Rose Lashley
Laura Folque Siso
Tanya T. Swift
Carl Arnez Ellis III
Hollis B. Fleming
Jerome Brooks, Jr
Robert H Fowler
Monroe Kent III
John D. Thomas
D. Paul Woodiel
Victoria Ying Yi Lin
John Paul Norpoth
Diva Goodfriend Koven
Mark Allen Jr.