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A chance hearing of a symphonic biography stirred memories of our country’s racism in the 1960s: riots, maiming, burnings, beatings, deaths, looting, torture, imprisonments, hospitalizations, bombings, and KKK villainy. Snarling attack dogs, fire hoses, tear gas, riot protective gear, and batons were prominent in the evening news.

Of the voices of protest none was more charismatic than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Baptist preacher and magnet for the Civil Rights Movement. Despite his 1968 assassination, his dream breathes on in the work of many, including the composer Joseph Schwantner and his symphonic biography: New Morning for the WorldDaybreak for Freedom (1982).

A narrator stands before the symphony orchestra and within the colorful and bombastic strains of this twenty-seven minutes piece melds ten excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches and essays. Referenced are the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott; the 1958 “Stride Toward Freedom;” the 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail; the 1963 “I Have a Dream speech” delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; the 1965 Selma march for voting rights; and King’s “Mountain” speech, the night before his death.

Each excerpt strikes dissonance within the instruments of the orchestra and scrapes festering wounds; yet, winds complement the depths of King’ vision, its crucifying tension sustained by prayer.

Although it’s possible to isolate salient characteristics of the 1960’s devastation in our cities, the nasty scourge of racism still whips the divide between rich and poor, gouges the social fabric with mistrust and animosity, and incites more blood-letting. Infections and fevers run rampant. In my perception, unwellness pervades the air.

Yet, I cannot be silenced. Just as Spirit buoyed Dr. King through harrowing trials into eternal life, just as Spirit moved Joseph Schwantner to compose New Morning for the WorldDaybreak for Freedom, to honor his vision, just so will Spirit enlarge our fearful hearts to rejoice, despite setbacks of any stripe. This, too, will pass.

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