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Lewis Nielson - You Choose - Sarah Pyle, flute; Ran Duan, piano
Program Note: You Choose (2010) is a text-setting by Roque Dalton in which the chamber players become singers. Like other works I have written, my hope is to produce a sense of community amongst the performers and to break the plane between audience and performer by placing the players’ vulnerabilities as vocalists “on-view,” as it were, and allowing listeners to relate to what the takes place more equally. Dalton’s poetry, always attacking any form of officiousness and over-organized governance, consists of a speech given to like-minded comrades that, owing to the speaker being a little less than coherent owing to drink, ends in a warm but none-too-clear discourse on love. Very much of the people, I would hope that the vocal performance—very much of an uncultivated, spur-of-the-moment vocal style—would take place in the spirit and same haphazard collision of approaches presented in the poetry itself.
Roque Dalton’s life was as colorful as his poetry. The illegitimate son of outlaw Wynant Dalton of the infamous Dalton Brothers Gang and a Salvadoran nurse, his notorious father left his mother an endowment for him so that he could have an education. Roque studied literature and law at the University of Santiago in Chile and in San Salvador, writing poetry and protesting the repressive regime in El Salvador. He was imprisoned there frequently, escaping at some times, pardoned at others. In 1959, celebrated the Cuban Revolution in his poetry, helping popularize efforts to drive out the US-sponsored Battista government and becoming the poet-laureate of left-wing revolutionaries throughout Central and South America. His work owes more to folk legend than other poets of his time, and focuses on a Mayakovskyan realism coupled with a colloquial and ballad style that is accessible and yet very intimate. His tragic death in May, 1975, more or less by mistake, at the hands of his erstwhile comrades of the ERP in the jungles of El Salvador was an incalculable loss to literature of this hemisphere, regardless of language or political affiliation.
The texts are used with permission of La Letra Editores, SA, Mexico City, Mexico. You Choose is the third of four text settings I have written using works by Roque Dalton, here as elsewhere written as chamber works that call for untrained singing, employing the vocal capabilities of all of the players.