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Four Poems of Nikita Gill (2018)

for solo soprano(s), piano | 00:12:00

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Nikita Gill

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Commissioned by Dr. Carol Lines at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Composer's Notes

The song cycle Four Poems of Nikita Gill sets poetry by British-Indian Sikh author Nikita Gill, who first drew attention for her works by publishing them on Instagram and Tumblr. Her writing often draws on her experiences as a woman of color, exploring themes such as trauma recovery, mental illness, feminism, and identity. Four Poems of Nikita Gill was first commissioned in 2018 by Dr. Carol Lines at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a premiere performance by three of her voice students. Each singer chose one of Nikita’s poems to be set to music, but the three students then put forward a joint proposal to add a fourth poem to the cycle, “Me Too,” as all of them connected strongly with the words and theme—this song is written for three a cappella voices so the singers could perform it together. By chance, each of the poems chosen for the cycle uses a different pronoun perspective. “Sorcery” is in first person (“I”) and is an affirmation of self-acceptance and the importance of self care; a mysterious melodic line in the piano becomes sly and knowing as a spell of healing is cast. “From the Ashes She Became” is in third person (“she”) and tells the phoenix-like story of a woman turning pain and exhaustion into strength, using imagery of rushing water and the desolate desert. “You Have Become a Forest” is in second person (“you”) and offers words of comfort and a celebration of growth to a Sondheim-esque melody, perhaps sung to a younger version of oneself. Finally, the protest anthem “Me Too” uses plural voice (“we”) and is woven into a canon, representing women’s individual voices joined together in solidarity and mutual empowerment. Text by poet Nikita Gill. Song cycle commissioned by Dr. Carol Lines through a Juliet Hardtner Endowed Professorship, McNeese State University.

This song cycle is intended to be expanded. Consider commissioning more songs for this collection by contacting the composer.

"Concluding Before She Became Fire memorably is Dunphy's Four Poems of Nikita Gill, its focus the experience of young women of today. Working with texts by the British-Indian Sikh author, the work explores the challenges women face in the 'Me Too' era as well as gains that have been made. One of the more striking things about the cycle is that the first three parts are delivered by a single voice while the final one is performed by a trio of a cappella voices. Live, it's performed by three singers; on the album, Leemhuis simulates the effect using multi-tracking." [textura]

I. Sorcery
By Nikita Gill
for Lindsey Bower

Every day, I magic myself alive again
from the near death experience of trauma.
I swallow my heart back from
the lump it has become in my throat.
I taste my own memories
without the flavour of blood but as poetry.
I learn how to whisper my name
without it sounding like a curse.
I murmur spells to the parts of me
others have found too dangerous to love.
And after this morning ritual
I finally smile at the woman in my mirror.
Tell me again,
how healing is not a magical thing.
Tell me again,
how I am not made of sorcery.

II. From The Ashes She Became
By Nikita Gill
for Lara Connally

Before she became fire, she was water.
Quenching the thirst of every dying creature.
She gave and she gave
until she turned from sea to desert.
But instead of dying of the heat,
the sadness, the heartache,
she took all of her pain
and from her own ashes became fire.

III. You Have Become a Forest
By Nikita Gill
for Emily Lancon

One day when you wake up, you will find that you have become a forest. You have grown roots and found strength in them that no one thought you had. You have become stronger and more beautiful, full of life giving qualities. You have learned to take all the negativity around you and turn it into oxygen for easy breathing. A host of wild creatures live inside you and you call them stories. A variety of beautiful birds rest inside your mind and you call them memories. You have become an incredible self sustaining thing of epic proportions. And you should be so proud of yourself, of how far you have come from the seeds of who you used to be.

IV. Me Too
By Nikita Gill

This is our riot act,
our manifesto,
our revolution:
because the ones
who did this know
we are talking about
their monstrous actions.
It’s time for them
to have the nightmares,
for them to suffer
for what happened,
for them to fear being
named by the same
voices they silenced.
I hope they are
forever haunted
by these two words:
“Me too”

Four Poems of Nikita Gill, Melissa Dunphy from Jennifer Lien on Vimeo.

Artwork by Abby Markov.


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