Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation
Music with a concentration in Music Composition, MM
Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)
song cycle; chamber orchestra; contemporary music; gun violence; experimental music
In the spring of 2017, I approached friend and writer Mickey Osthimer about collaborating on text for a song cycle. I was concerned about questions of identity, especially in America—why and how do certain ideologies lay “claim” to American values? Are protesters less representative of our values than police or government? More? Why do we ignore certain sub–communities, uphold others, and mourn or empathize with them accordingly? What emerged from our discussions was a series of poems and prose selections about community, identity, memory, and trauma. Some of the text deals with childhood and nostalgia, while we culled other excerpts from previous essays Mickey had written for a literature blog. In total, they depict a portrait of how we build identity in childhood, and how that identity splinters in the face of violence—specifically, gun violence. Over the course of the composition process, this topic grew ever–more relevant. While writing, the number of American school shootings since 2013 surged past 300. Among those was the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, FL, which gave rise to the #MarchForOurLives campaign and the public protest of high school students. (https://everytownresearch.org) Simultaneously, America faced and continues to face an epidemic of unarmed or legally armed people of color dying in police custody or after police shootings, including Stephon Clark, killed during the revision process of this piece. The groundswell of protest against this recurring trend extends back to the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson—respectively, these events gave birth and support to the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter movement, addressing another face of gun violence in America. (https://blacklivesmatter.com) And, of course, neither of these contemporary histories necessarily address the often ignored gun deaths that occur every day in America, and the ineffective policies that permit for these situations. In the 37 days after the Parkland massacre, 73 teens died from shootings or gun–related injury around the country. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/teens-killed-since-parkland_us_5ab54cd5e4b0decad049d34c) When the Ground Shakes does not propose a solution to America’s epidemic of gun violence, an issue deeply affected by public policy, the prison-industrial complex, our scapegoating and misunderstanding of mental illness, and racism. It offers, I hope, a glimpse into the mental and physical anguish of losing friends and family to such circumstances. It is a memorial to Americans— especially people of color, Native, queer/gender non–conforming, and mentally disabled citizens— who are disproportionally affected by gun violence. It is a challenge to the narrative of masculinity that drives white men to commit mass atrocity, a challenge to the policies and cultures that have allowed for or perpetuated indiscriminate community gun violence, and a challenge to Americans to find creative and complex solutions to protect each other.
May, James, "When the ground shakes." (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2920.