San Francisco Choral Society is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season, and to celebrate, they commissioned a new work from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang called Teach Your Children. It’s on a program with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana tonight and tomorrow night at Davies Symphony Hall. The text of the work was based on search engine results auto-completing sentences such as ‘We all need to teach our children to…’
There’s more information about the work and performances at the San Francisco Choral Society website.
“Bob Geary asked me if I was interested in doing something for this gigantic community choir,” Lang says. “I’ve been doing all these projects about communities, about ways to involve large numbers of people who are not specialists, necessarily, and what that means. I think a lot of what music is about is making a kind of utopia where people come together and work and build something. And normally people in my position make these kinds of utopias with really sophisticated professional musicians who work really hard and can do anything. A few years ago, I started thinking that it’s actually so important that we learn how to work together that this kind of message can’t be left to the professionals. It’s really valuable to design some projects so that ordinary people or music lovers can get together and make something together and build that kind of utopian community.” This piece, written for a community, calls upon the wisdom of the crowd for its texts. “The piece is called Teach Your Children, so It’s about what children need to know, what our relationship to them is as parents, and how you do this job well or badly, and so I typed into my search engine, ‘We all need to teach our children to…’ Eventually, if you get rid of the ones that are too specific, you end up with a generalized list of things which maybe we might all agree that it would be useful for us to teach our children.” There’s also text, sung by the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, reflecting what kids think they need to learn. And the final movement tries to go a little deeper toward honest communication. “What are we hiding from them? And this sentence I think was something like ‘The truth is that we all…’ If we were really being honest with each other, what are the truths that we all need to be prepared for, and that we are afraid that our children aren’t going to get unless we help them have them?”