Come My Tan-Faced Children (2019)
for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra | 00:05:40
by Melissa Dunphy | text by Walt Whitman
Come, My Tan-Faced Children was commissioned by Lyric Fest for premiere at "Carol of Words - Walt Whitman in Song" (Suzanne DuPlantis & Laura Ward, Artistic Directors), and written for Raehann Bryce-Davis. This version arranged for the Brooklyn Metro Chamber Orchestra.
Come, My Tan-Faced Children was commissioned in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman, but it is not a blind celebration of that poet’s legacy. Intended for performance by a Black mezzo-soprano, this song recontextualizes words from Whitman’s poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! in a way that the poet almost certainly never intended. Although Whitman campaigned against slavery, he held regressive racist views about African-Americans and did not believe they should be given full citizenship rights. Pioneers! O Pioneers! was Whitman’s call to arms for white pioneers in the American West to fight in the Civil War, but by removing the title and the last line of each stanza, and placing the words in the mouth of a woman of color, the song carries an entirely different meaning, especially now during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Listen to a podcast about the creation of this work here:
"'Come, My Tan Faced Children,' the adaptation of Walt Whitman's text, ignited a fire in my heart. I found that this musical call to arms tasks the reader with finding their own power and owning that discovery. Laden with imagery of strength and war, this text encouraged me to question when I feel most whole. The text concludes with "... I am rapt with love for all!" which I find quite interesting. There is a juxtaposition between power and vulnerability, which are two symbiotic values in my life. It is important that we understand our worth and acknowledge what empowers us, while engaging in wholehearted living." [soprano MaKayla McDonald]Come, my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready;
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp edged axes?
For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend.
O resistless, restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult—I am rapt with love for all!
Adapted from "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" by Walt Whitman
First published in Drum-Taps, 1865
- 09 Jun, 2019: Raehann Bryce, Brooklyn Metro Chamber Orchestra at Park Church Co-Op, Brooklyn, NY