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Songs for the People (2022)

for SATB choir | 5:00

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper

Commissioned by Seattle Pro Musica
Premiered 12 November 2022 by Seattle Pro Musica at Seattle First Baptist Church, Seattle, WA

Program note: "When I was asked to write a new song for Seattle Pro Musica, I jumped at the opportunity to set a poem by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, an extraordinary Black writer, abolitionist, suffragist, and progressive activist from the 19th Century who ought to be a household name alongside figures such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. “Songs for the People,” from an 1895 poetry collection, is a hymn to the power of music to energize, heal, and bring communities together; I could not resist adding music to these words, which are just as relevant today as we face our modern struggles as they were during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the inequalities of the Gilded Age."

Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of all
With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of all grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

—Poems, published 1895


  • 25 Jun, 2023: Vocal Arts Ensemble at Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC
  • 12 May, 2023: Sine Nomine at St. Elizabeth Church, Wilmington, DE
  • 12 Nov, 2022: Seattle Pro Musica at Seattle First Baptist Church, Seattle, WA