First spotting of the “The Jury”

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“The love of men is my chief joy”

There were a few weeks in mid-July when NCMF Composer-in-Residence Jon Deak emailed me a new page of the manuscript every day; it was as if I were witnessing the birth of the new composition in real time, not unlike a musical version of watching Harry Potter step out from behind the Cloak of Invisibility. The manuscript I’m referring to is, of course, the score for the piece this summer, “The Jury,” composed by Deak and based on the eponymous poem by Rhina P. Espaillat.

While I look forward to the world premiere every year, this time might be the most excited I’ve ever been. “The Jury” promises to be everything I’ve come to expect from the Pulitzer-nominated composer – wry, arch, immensely entertaining, and with a sting in the tail. Jon’s work blurs the line between music and theater: he has the musicians scratching their strings, knocking on wood, cooing, clucking, and a bunch of other nutty stuff, some of which, to be honest, I have no clue how to do. And all this while the soprano prowls around the stage behind the string players speaking, singing, reciting, gasping, and moaning. I’ve got no idea what is going to happen in the concert but that’s part of the thrill.

A typical email from Jon Deak containing
newly minted pages of the manuscript

I’ll be arriving in Newburyport this weekend to prep for the festival. Let the games begin!

David Yang, Artistic Director

Soprano Elaine Daiber,
rocking the boat in 2022



The Jury
By Rhina P. Espaillat

In a bare tree,
four strangers gathered from afar
slipped into talk,  as travelers do.
First Eagle said, “How strange they are,

these creatures lately come to climb
our cliffs and spy upon our brood.
They have no constancy, but drift
from mood to mood:

first, wanton slaughter, and now zeal
to build our hunted tribe again.
I cannot fathom them at all.”
“They are called Men,”

said Pigeon, “and I know them well.
I’ve learned their secret. All they use,
from day to day, to guide their steps,
is just their shoes.

It’s true, my friends. In new spiked boots
yesterday’s farmer struts the street,
turned killer, and tomorrow dies
derelict, with rag-bound feet.

More out of sympathy than need,
I gather their spilled crumbs to know
toward what new grief
their wayward shoes would have them go.”

“And yet,” said Sparrow, “I have known
some who would leave their lighted nest
to scatter seed, through razor winds,
for our sake, lest

we hunger through December days.
I’ve seen them fling their gaze above
their comforts, to pursue us with
something like love.”

“True,” Vulture said, “for they love me
and have my welfare much in mind.
In Leningrad, in Lebanon
men were most kind

and nourished me with their own young.
Vietnam, Verdun, Angola, Troy,Thermopylae…the love of men
is my chief joy.”

“Well, that’s as may be,” Eagle said,
“but they are feeble things at best.
Condemned to winglessness, they creep
in their own shadow, flight-obsessed,

a sad smudge upon the earth,
half-willingly erased at last.
We will posses our own again,
when they have passed.”

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