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To Breathe


Art Song| Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano & Piano| 8′

Program Note:

To Breathe sets two contrasting poems that each delve into a different aspect of the first six months of quarantine in 2020 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic – specifically, the events that unfolded
in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Though these poems were written at different points during quarantine, they are intrinsically linked through breath.

Centering was originally a timed-write inspired by a prompt composed by Josh Love for the East County Poetry Group: “Pick a day, and a time of day that will be nice for walking outside…Before
leaving your house take a minute to breathe. Take a moment to center yourself…just try to be present to your body, to your thoughts, and to your emotions. When you are feeling present grab a pad of paper and take a walk…As soon as you are struck by something beautiful pause and start.”

Noteheads represented with an “x” are meant to be whispered in a stage whisper-esque tone. In stark contrast, “Riots” was written during the height of Portland’s occupation by the Federal Forces.
As an essential worker working a night shift schedule in downtown Portland, not far from where these events unfolded, I witnessed many of the stand-offs between Black Lives Matter protesters and federal officers and was immensely frustrated by many of the things that I saw. “Riots” was a way for me to release some of the tensions that I carried and comment on the violence that I observed. Because of my proximity to the Hatfield Building – and due to the sheer volume of deployment – the tear gas thrown by federal officers often leaked into my building’s ventilation system and my co-workers and I were also subjected to some of the gas that was used: “the gas makes me cry too.”

To Breathe begins with a theme in the piano that serves as the musical foundation for the rest of the piece, jumping in and out of focus, and finally bridging the two singers together thematically at the very end. The Mezzo-Soprano narrates “Riots” with growing fear and confusion while the Soprano lags behind, floating in with the escapist tones of Centering. As the work progresses, though the texts remain tied to their respective singers, the melodic material begins to fluctuate between the two singers until the melodic themes are flipped. As the piano enters with the final statement of the main theme, the Soprano comes out of the fog and, finally beginning to listen in earnest, joins the Mezzo-Soprano as they complete their journey together.


Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, & Piano

Original text
8 minutes
​Vocal Range: Soprano: E4-Bb5, Mezzo-Soprano: C4-F#5



Perusal Score



I am reminded of a different time,
far removed from this crumbling earth.
The breeze steals my breath,
commanding my senses:
as my shaking fingers find solace
in the pine needles that fall upon me.
I grasp at straws, or
ancient memories –
feeling my light steal from
the dusk
just to breathe.


It doesn’t seem to end:
Any and all
of it
Can’t seem to break
free from this God-forsaken
free of the deafening
Cries and explosions
of it,
Any and all of it
The smoke doesn’t seem to clear.
It doesn’t seem to end:
Any and all
of it
Clusters provoking barricades provoking
federal pangs and they are
for insubordination –
City inflamed and the sting of it,
Any and all of it;

The gas makes me cry too.

– Carolyn Quick (2020)