"Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" is a solo work for trombone and digital delay processing pedal that was written for Madison, WI based trombonist Cole Bartels and was created as a direct result of COVID-19. The title is a verse taken from Emma Lazarus’s iconic 1883 poem “The New Colossus,” which was a tribute to the symbolism of Lady Liberty and was written to raise funds for the statue’s pedestal. I started this work right after New York declared a state emergency due to the virus. I can view the Statue of Liberty from my Brooklyn apartment, and it was during this time that the whole situation regarding the pandemic came full circle as I was gazing out the window. I was immediately struck by the 11th verse of this poem, since there is a cruel twist of irony that is currently taking place in America. We are a nation of immigrants, yet it’s shocking that the current administration has placed very strict laws on immigration since 2017, including the recent temporary suspension from April of 2020.
The landscape of New York citizens wearing masks in public, let alone those across the United States, is now also a stark contrast from Lazarus’s plea to “breathe free.” Although the masks are required to prevent the infection of this respiratory disease, I feel that we could be entering a new dystopian age where the freedom to breathe and prosper will be suppressed by major forces beyond our control. The mood on the streets in New York City feels very grim and ominous, yet at times hopeful, as these new “social distancing” laws have put its citizens through fear and uncertainty.
"Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" depicts the current atmosphere felt by many concerned Americans, as it feels that our society is in fact “yearning to breathe free” from a socio-economic, physical and psychological perspective. This piece was constructed as a ternary musical form with a duration of ten minutes, due to the inclusion of the delay pedal loops. I experimented with various techniques and textural ranges of this instrument, as the material contracting and expanding throughout the work symbolizes the poet’s metaphor from this particular verse. This piece also employs the use of music quotation, as the opening melodic material from America’s national anthem is echoed throughout as a warning to the masses. "Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" also metaphorically alludes to a possible apocalyptic type scenario of our current environment, as this particular brass instrument subtly implies the trumpets from the Book of Revelation (though both the trombone and trumpet are part of the brass family).
"Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" was recorded and mixed on May 7, 2020. This particular abstract video installation accompanies the surreal mood of the music composition. It is comprised of actual news and media footages from various American cities during this current pandemic, and was specifically created for the Mozaik Philanthropy’s “Future Art Awards” Competition, which subsequently was awarded one of the top ten prizes.
The reason why I had applied to this competition, was specifically due to verse 12 of Ephesians 6: "We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world". My work submitted for this competition, "Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" is a a recent multi-media disciplinary work that was created in response to COVID-19.The title is a verse taken from Emma Lazarus’s iconic 1883 poem “The New Colossus,” which was a tribute to the symbolism of Lady Liberty.
I truly believe the onset of the Coronavirus was primarily a spiritual battle on mankind, as there are forces in this world that have contributed to this pandemic to create chaos, fear and death, which as of today has taken the lives of over 400,000 people worldwide (100,000 in the US). We are new experiencing a new way of living, or a new "normal", where our interactions and movements are being calculated and watched from every corner.
This particular verse is a fight against evil with an emphasis of a protection from wicked forces, and although the Coronavirus has been described as an "invisible enemy", for the most part, there has been hope and solidarity across the United States during this trying times (and across the world), for everyone is coming together and rising above the hatred, uncertainty, confusion and fear in order to get through this horrible situation that has claimed the lives of so many people.
Brian Mark: Composer, Producer, Video Editor/Visual Artist
Cole Bartels: Performer (Trombonist)
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