For International Women’s Day 2023, Bellissima Opera and Working in Concert commissioned me to write lyrics to a song that would become a meditation on how gun violence is affecting youth. A rising tide of school shootings were dominating American news cycles. Christine Steyer, Artistic Director of Bellissima’s International Women’s Day Concert, encouraged me to write lyrics based on my poetic and spiritual sensibilities – the music? It would follow. This way of working was new to me. Then, she paired me with an amazing composer, Chicago’s force on piano forte, the vibrant Elizabeth Doyle.
Together, Elizabeth and I created the song, “Will They Remember Life Was Beautiful?” I spent months listening to interviews of students, families, teachers, and friends left bereft. I watched footage of one shooter’s arraignment and the troubled life of his mother. (Doesn’t the news often seem to question us mothers without investigating our lack of financial and social support?) Across my screen flashed ballistics reports, diagrams of bullets and chambers, politicians, the rants of pundits, and posts from pediatric surgeons sharing the fatalities they’re seeing in Emergency Departments as they call on Congress to turn the tide of violence. I started to have nightmares about our national nightmare.
In February 2023, a mass shooting happened at Michigan State University where a dear friend of mine teaches. My chest pounding, I texted to see if she was all right. She was shook, but, thankfully, thankfully, okay. Some students didn’t make it. These bullets are hitting too close to home. And now, home. A few days ago, a passing car fired shots just outside my son’s former elementary school where my nephews now attend.
For decades, in American communities of color, Black and Latinx mothers have been calling for cease fires, safety zones, and anonymous gun drop-offs at churches while simultaneously clamoring for jobs and Afterschool programs for youth. Since time immemorial, many native communities have survived through subsistence hunting. They harvest only what they will eat and use every bit of bone, flesh, and hide and give thanks to the animals who offer their lives so that their families can live. Rural hunters are often steeped in the tradition and practice of gun safety so they can safely provide food for their families. Human relationships to gun power need to be examined with intelligence, compassion, and an eye towards the specifics of place, community, food sovereignty, and history.
Automatic and semi-automatic weapons can kill children with 45 rounds per minute, usually in urban and suburban America. What do we think about these human tools? What toll is this level of gun power having on the youngest, most innocent of us?
“Will They Remember Life Was Beautiful?” is part of our collective American story written as song. Elizabeth and I hope that you performers, religious institutions, colleges, and arts organizations make it your own. We’d love to hear your ideas on how to program it as part of your community dialogue and support for peace in your corner of the world.
For more information on sheet music and how to license “Will They Remember Life Was Beautiful?” please email: composer Elizabeth Doyle at email@example.com or lyricist Mary Grace Bertulfo at firstname.lastname@example.org.