Gwyneth Walker

Let America Be America Again

for Narrator and Orchestra (2012)
for Narrator and Piano (2011)

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Download an MP3 file of a performance of this work by Stephaine Beans, narrator and the Whitworth University Symphony Orchestra, Philip Baldwin, conductor.

Download a PDF file of the full score of this composition.
Download a PDF file of the piano score/narrator's part of this composition.

(Photograph of the premiere performers: Whitworth University Symphony Orchestra, Philip Baldwin, conductor with narrator Stephaine Beans, university chaplain.)

A photo of the University of Arkansas with the composer

Let America Be America Again is a powerful poem by African-American poet/playwright, Langston Hughes (1902-1967). The strength of the message and language are well-suited to presentation by narrator and orchestra.

This is a dramatic and varied text, ranging from peaceful (dreamlike) passages to angry explosions. The author begins by speaking of the dream of America, a land where pioneers sought their freedom. [Hughes then acknowledges that, as a black American, "America never was America to me."] There is the hope for liberty and equality. Yet for black Americans, and the downtrodden of all races, the American experience has all too often been one of persecution.

Speaking now in the first person, the author identifies with all struggling Americans. "I am the farmer... the worker...the Negro...I am the people." "Yet I'm the one who dreamt the basic build a homeland of the free." Despite their labors, these Americans have nothing except "the dream that's almost dead today."

With the strength of enduring hope, the author exhorts "We, the people, must reclaim the land...and make America again!"

The musical expression, which has thus far essentially provided a background and commentary to the reading, now comes forth with a closing hymn titled "Let America Be America Again!" The theme, which enters after a 12-measure introduction, is stated in low octaves, with a rhythm aligned with the words "Let America be America." The theme returns several times, including in the closing section, where the ascending pitches are held through. This gathering of many notes expresses a "land for all!"

Notes by the composer