A recording of the first three movements of a new concert work by Darius Holbert
Score Preparation: Walter Trapp, Eric Klein
Vocal Contractor and Conductor: Andrew Schultz
Mixing: Jack Joseph Puig
Mastering: Ted Jensen
Voices: James Hayden - bass, Edmond Rodriguez - tenor, Elizabeth Anderson - alto, Suzanne Waters - soprano, Kelci Hahn - soprano
Notes on the piece
"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. That is how civilizations heal."
- Toni Morrison
These are treacherous times - climate catastrophe, rampant inequality, world heath cataclysms, and leadership failures. I’ve felt helpless and hopeless for a long while, so I sat down and wrote music about it. I’ve always wanted to offer my take on the venerable musical Requiem funeral mass and after five years of work, it is finally done. It’s an elegy for the death of processes, our eroding trust in systems, and the collapse of the American Dream, while still hinting at the slim hope of eventual, lasting justice and peace.
I wrote this on and off over the last five years in between my film scoring work, completing the last sections of this piece during the COVID-19 pandemic, and amidst the Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others; during one of the most socially and politically fractured periods in recent memory. We see a lost nation in the throes of late-stage capitalism; an experiment that nobody thought would work in the first place. Hell, even our national anthem starts with a question.
Yet composing this music has been an antidote for me. I’ve tried to thread through these movements musical ideas that acknowledge our hope to finally fulfill the promises made by the mythic American dream. But in order to present these broad themes through music, I turned my traditional work paradigm upside down:
I’m primarily a film and tv composer. I’ve scored numerous shows and films, from big studio pictures to tiny indie documentaries. Typically I write the music that propels the narrative; the score supports and guides the story. Yet for this project, I wanted the themes I’m trying to covey through the music supported by a visual component, so I enlisted six filmmakers from around the globe. Instead of using the picture to inform the music, we used the music to inform the picture.
We distance-recorded the first three of fifteen movements during the height of the pandemic and with the help of these filmmakers from the US, Brazil, Dominican Republic, and Bulgaria, the three short films not only support the music found on the EP, but will be an integral part of the performance of this work: the intent is to have the films projected as the music is played live.
In composing, I relied on the rich tradition of orchestral and choral Requiem masses and tried to update the form in my own way. Although it is a contemporary classical work, I’ve dashed elements of jazz and rock throughout the piece. In addition to the traditional orchestral instrumentation, I used a number of iconic American instruments and sounds: a distorted Fender Rhodes, a steam train whistle, an overdriven electric bass, a baseball into a glove. To help me step outside the boundaries of the classical modality, I convinced (somehow) the legendary studio engineers Jack Joseph Puig and Ted Jensen to polish the final recording of the EP.
My musical career has run the gamut: As a kid, I was a soloist and guest conductor on the Texas Boy Choir’s tour of Australia. I’ve played in a 1,000 honky-tonks across the South and performed for hundreds of thousands of people in arenas and festivals all over the world. I studied performance and composition at University College London and the University of North Texas. I’ve done session and production work for the Wu Tang Clan and House of Pain. I was the musical director for Britney Spears. I’ve penned songs with Diane Warren, performed with the late Dave Brubeck, and jammed with President Bill Clinton. But whenever I’m asked what kind of music I write for myself . . . well, this Requiem is now the answer.
This album’s cover art foreshadows the composition’s visual and elegiac impulses. Nina Elder has rendered the Bear’s Ears Uranium Bid Area in synthetic uranium and radioactive charcoal. Nina’s art addresses ecological and climate degradation, and the displacement of indigenous people from their ancestral lands across the American west. She has donated the license fee for use of her piece directly to the Ahtna Collective Management Plan, a collective of indigenous land stewards in Alaska whose goal is to amplify their traditional practices in resource management and land jurisdiction. Nina is one of my favorite cousins and I admire her profoundly. Please check out her stellar artwork: https://www.ninaelder.com/.
This is my American Requiem, my elegy for the West. I poured a lot of my life into it and am proud of the work. I mourn the loss of the American ideal that probably never existed for the majority of us, but am hopeful that some day together we can usher in a new society, twisted and broken by the rigors of birth, better for us all. If not, perform this piece at its funeral and start over.