Poem for American Acrimony is a Symphonic Poem, more commonly referred to as a Tone Poem. This medium of music composition was first explored by Franz Liszt in his landmark poem, Les Préludes. Later, this form was further developed by Richard Strauss, Bedřich Smetana, Edgard Varèse, and William Schumann. A tone poem is a piece of orchestral music, usually performed as a single, continuous movement, which illustrates or evokes the content of a literary poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other (non-musical) source. Thus, such a work is considered “program music.” Program music relies on external non-musical information for accurate interpretation by the listener. The non-musical source of inspiration for these musical themes and ideas is the current state of intense political acrimony in American society. This “American Acrimony” colors almost every aspect of our very existence as U.S. citizens.
Donald W. Brown, the librettist for the work, created original lyrics and narrative while integrating words of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson.
Poem for American Acrimony is divided into six themes, or movements, which are to be performed without pause. As the work progresses, words from various speeches throughout American history are used to illustrate and promote unity. In several cases, these texts are creatively interwoven to encourage personal participation in civil discourse instead of acrimonious behavior.
The artwork for this piece was created by the Graphic Designer Heidi Steiner, who has designed absolutely brilliant album covers for all of my opuses. This “Sargent Pepper’s” inspired historical collage depicts Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States as the background with 45 of the United States Presidents, along with modern-day elements of protestors and the media with the goal to portray the political turmoil of the past several centuries.
“We are a nation in constant, reoccurring acrimony; divided by race, class, gender, religious views, and opinions. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we have learned from history and are safe and free in the land of liberty – the overwhelming news stories and social media posts prove otherwise. Everything has changed since 1789, and nothing has changed at the same time. We the people made America what it is; what we need is the ability to be different, and yet amicable to make it great.” -Heidi Steiner
In this fractious time in American history, it is my hope that we can learn from those who founded this country on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, to the people of the USA, this is my prayer for a more harmonious future.
This is my Poem for American Acrimony.
- 2 Flutes + Piccolo
- 2 Oboes
- 2 Bb Clarinets
- 2 Bassoons
- 4 Horns
- 2 Trumpets
- 2 Trombones
- Timpani, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Cymbals, Marimba, Xylophone, & various non-pitched percussion
In this fractious time in American history, it is my hope that we can learn from those who founded this country on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, to the people of the USA, this is my prayer for a more harmonious future. This is my Poem for American Acrimony.
Heidi Steiner is the graphic designer that created absolutely brilliant album covers for all of my opuses. The tour-de-force of them all was her vision and realization of the artwork for my Opus 08, Poem for American Acrimony. I asked Heidi to comment on her artwork, thought process, and challenges she faced in bringing Poem for American Acrimony to life in a single visual. Here are her words:
bitterness or ill-feeling.
“a quagmire of lawsuits, acrimony, and finger-pointing”
We are a nation in constant, reoccurring acrimony; divided by race, class, gender, religious views, and opinions. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we have learned from history and are safe and free in the land of liberty – the overwhelming news stories and social media posts prove otherwise. Everything has changed since 1789, and nothing has changed at the same time. Charles Brown, III, and Donald Brown did an absolutely incredible job conveying this through music and I was given the task of capturing this acrimonious history visually.
My original concept was to use Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States as the background and place modern-day elements of protestors and the media within that image. I showed the first concept to Charles and he suggested taking it even further in a Sgt. Pepper’s inspired mash-up of political turmoil over the past several centuries. I loved the idea and the challenge and began to brush up on my U.S. History to capture as much as possible in one scene.
Consider the artwork for Poem for American Acrimony as an I-Spy of U.S. politics. I tried to depict Presidents, national events, random facts, and an overall feeling of divided unity. The media is shown as if the signing of the constitution was a modern-day White House Press Conference. The windows showcase equal rights protestors, a Trump rally, and General George Armstrong Custer amidst a protest by Native Americans. George W. Bush is shown giving his bullhorn speech at ground zero on September 14, 2001. His father, George H.W. Bush is standing right behind him. John Adams is also seated next to his son John Quincy Adams. Possibly the most powerful display of family is John F Kennedy seated at the table with the Adams gents while the image of John-John saluting from JFK’s funeral and Jackie O desperately crawling towards him is in front. This country has had quite a few historical figure assassinations, and just as many tragic Kennedy deaths. Abe Lincoln is seated next to JFK with John Wilkes Booth standing directly behind him.
Some of the more random facts showcased are Martin Van Buren in an American flag suit to symbolize he was the 1st American President. William McKinley is shown with a parrot on his shoulder because he trained his pet bird to greet White House visitors. John Tyler is seated with a violin to represent that he was pushed to study law by his father instead of following his dream of being a concert violinist. William Taft is holding a 1910 Washington Senators Baseball Pennant because he was the 1st president to throw out the opening pitch at a baseball game. The scandal is there as well-see Bill Clinton next to Monica Lewinsky with Hillary Clinton lurking behind them. Donald Trump is showing Alexander Hamilton his latest Tweet while wearing his iconic MAGA hat. We the people made America what it is, what we need is the ability to be different, and yet amicable to make it great.