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Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), in his own words

We finally have a working title, and music for our commissioned piece from Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR). His new work is titled The Order of an Empty Place. Below are DBR's program notes on the piece, hot off the presses. The Wind Orchestra is very excited to premier this new and exciting new work for full instrumentation wind orchestra plus solo electric violin, and we hope to have a great showing in the audience for this concert on the 29th of March!


Zachary Daniel Roumain was born on June 21, 2009, at 1:03 am. It was Father's Day, and Zachary was surrounded by his parents, both sets of grandparents, and our many extended family and friends on-line. Like any young father, I was concerned for his mother, nervous for my new responsibilities, and elated at the birth of our son! Just months prior, I attended Passover with Jill Arkin Roumain's parents, and at that table, we talked about the first official Passover at the White House, the "Blessing of the Sun" (Birkat Hachama), and Zachary's coming birth all happening within months of one another. We could not have known then what specific day Zachary would be born, but at that time I discussed with my father-in-law, Charlie Arkin, a new work for an ensemble of musicians, solo violin, and Rabbi, one that would express those aspects of Passover within a setting of the Haggadah, or the Jewish text which gives instruction and order to the Seder, or the ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover.

As Zachary's father, I felt a particular responsibility towards the complex nature of his DNA. He is a child of black, white, Catholic, Jewish, Haitian, and American parents. He embodies all of the hopes and dreams of his ancestors, and I felt ill-equipped to teach him in the ways of being a responsible Jewish person, not being a Jewish person myself. As a composer, I felt that setting the Haggadah afforded an opportunity for me to learn with my son, side-by-side, in the creation of a new work.

Coincidentally, Paul Brohan at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center invited me to create a new work for their wind orchestra. After discussing the new commission with their brilliant conductor Michael Votta, it was agreed that my first religious work would be a setting of the Haggadah, and that an important commissioning partner in the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, would be established. Without this important collaboration, this work would not have been possible.

I spent two years at the JCC attending workshops, classes, round-table discussions, and private dinners and conversations with Rabbi Joy Levitt, the Executive Director of the JCC. Those months of study proved invaluable in helping me understand the importance of Passover towards Jewish life and learning, and the importance of ritual and repetition in my own life and family. The text was compiled from Rabbi Levitt's own Haggadah, A Night of Questions, and an interview with her in the fall of 2011. The Cleveland-based writer Margaret Lynch developed and composed the libretto, and the score was completed in February 2012.

The Order of an Empty Place is scored for wind ensemble, solo violin, and Rabbi, and takes its title from the words of Rabbi Levitt's father, and his call to his family that, "I want to remind everyone that seder means order.", this in response to the "chaos" of his children, grandchildren, and their parents running around the home in excited anticipation of the night's ritual and conversation. These words appear throughout the work as narrated by the Rabbi, as well as Jewish folk music (Dayenu), fragmented and re-imagined for the ensemble. Additionally, there are antiphonal speaking roles for the ensemble and audience, extended instrumental passages for violin and ensemble, and a reliance on repetition in the use of a passacaglia motif that appears in the first few measures of the work. All of these musical devices hope to express the rites and rituals of Passover by focusing in on the memories and stories associated with the holiday itself, and more specifically, those memories and stories of Rabbi Joy Levitt. She has become and integral part of this piece, and her world-premiere performances with me, side-by-side, embodies all I could hope and ask for as a Haitian-American composer with a mixed-race son, creating work in an increasingly rich and interrogative manner.

While I was composing this work, I experienced the pain and trauma of a divorce from Jill. I was thrown into a situation where so many aspects of my life where beyond my control. Throughout this time, creating this work for Zachary became my guiding light, and he continues to inspire and comfort me as much as I might do those things for him. Like any divorce, you face an array of struggles and silence---you feel alone. But the last few words of our libretto proved to be particularly meaningful to me:

Listen to the silence of the night. What do you hear? Love? Regret? Indifference? Suffering? Stand ready to build a place of peace. Listen and say: here I am.

This work is for my own son, but I hope you hear and feel this work with your own sons and daughters beside you---within the complex comfort of your heart and mind.


Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR)

Harlem, New York

February 13, 2012

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