She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees

Commissioned and performed by Sarah Cahill
Project: The Future Is Female
Premiered at the Detroit Institute for the Arts, March 22, 2019
See score excerpt*

This piece begins with an incantation of the song Images, by Nina Simone, with pitches of its melody embedded within an amalgam of glissandi and counter-melodies. Rendering the song austerely in a cappella, Simone sings the text of the poem No Images (1926), by the Harlem Renaissance poet William Waring Cuney. In this piece, the notes of the melody are sounded by way of silently pressed keys which are allowed to ring with the use of the sostenuto pedal. When a glissando sweep is played across the depressed keys, all pitches of the sweep are immediately dampened, but the tones of the melody continue to resonate.

The melody of the last stanza of the poem, however, is not intoned. What follows instead is the interruption of Cuney's depiction of oppression with the music of a dance in 13/8 meter. I have been drawn to this meter because of its lilt and instability - an uneven alternating between 7 and 6 beats which propels forward motion. After I began to first compose with this meter, I learned how the now 'unlucky' number originated in many ancient cultures as a symbol of the divine feminine. For example, there are 13 cycles of the moon and menstrual cycles a year, and Friday (from the Norse goddess Freya or in Neo-latin languages, Venerdi from Venus) the 13th represented the day of the Goddess - a day to celebrate the cycles of creation, death and rebirth. The dance is an evocation of movement into self-knowledge and worth for those who have not felt themselves duly reflected in the world.

No Images
by William Waring Cuney

She does not know
her beauty,
she thinks her brown body
has no glory.

If she could dance
under palm trees
and see her image in the river,
she would know.

But there are no palm trees
on the street,
and dish water gives back
no images.

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