Earth, Ash, Us

By: Julia Easterlin

Earth, Ash, Us was commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work during the artist’s residency in Spring 2014. In this piece, the artist seeks to explore and demonstrate themes of interdependence and empathy through acapella performance. As stated by musician Brian Eno, “When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a [collective] consciousness, because acapella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. …That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.”

In composing for and performing solely with singers, Easterlin creates an environment in which all participants are greatly dependent upon each other and must empathize with one anothers’ sense of time, of space, of pitch and of movement to successfully execute the composition.

The lyrics are alternately written in Latin and derived from a Middle English prayer “There Was A Rose of Such Virtue” with some changes made by the composer:

“In what splendor / arose a rose of such virtue / Cinis, terra! /That contained/ the earth and heaven / in little space.
Cinis, terra / Nos! Nos! / Gaudeamus / There was a rose / Nos! Nos! / Transeamus!”

cinis – ash, terra- earth, nos – us, gaudeamus – we rejoice, transeamus – we change

In six weeks (Apr – May 2014), Easterlin composed Earth, Ash, Us for six to eight voices. In its current iteration, it is set to seven voices. This is the artist’s first composition for a choral ensemble.

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