Composer and musician Will Healy explores ways in which to survive and overcome oppression through his emotive work reflecting on Ecclesiastes 4:1-2.
Composed and Performed By
1 So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. 2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are yet alive.
Given how much has changed over the last 2,000 years, it is always fascinating to read Bible passages that are relevant to the modern world. In Ecclesiastes 4:1-2, Solomon reflects upon sorrow and inequity, and in doing so he reveals a universal truth about being human–we all long for someone to comfort us. To this day, not only is there still the pain and inequality that Solomon is describing, there is also that same desire for someone to alleviate the pain inherent in human existence. Solomon is so pained by this that he praises the dead for being dead.
There are certain people and eras that have truly endured the kind of hardship he is describing, and they have often used music to get them through it. The Negro Spirituals of 19th century America are a beautiful example of this–melodies that could serve as a comforter to the oppressed when there were no others to comfort them.
In my musical reflection, I start with an imagined Spiritual melody. Because Solomon is addressing the dead and picturing a comforting afterlife for his ancestors, I felt that the music needed an ethereal, somewhat eerie quality. The Spiritual melody is juxtaposed with sweeping, emotive runs as Solomon imagines the dead. As the piece progresses, the melody becomes increasingly distorted, almost unrecognizable. I end with the melody in the highest range of the piano, in dissonant, painful major 7ths.
In today’s world, we face many of the same inequalities and sorrows that existed in Biblical times. It is tempting to become nihilistic about them, as Solomon is in this passage. We can look to the shared pains in every era of human existence, however, and learn from the many ways the oppressed faced their oppressors. In many cases that was through artistic expression, especially music. Perhaps through the universal language of music we can reach new understanding between the oppressors and the oppressed, honoring the dead by reflecting upon their words.
Will Healy is a composer and pianist based in New York. Known for his “lushly bluesy” sound and “adroitly blended… textures” (New York Times), he is the artistic director of ShoutHouse, an ensemble of 15 hip-hop, jazz, and classical musicians. After playing trumpet in an Afrobeat band for a few years, he grew interested in collaborating with performers from many corners of the New York music scene. In addition, he is an accomplished pianist specializing in Bach, with a repertoire that includes the complete Goldberg Variations and WTC Book 1. Healy is the recipient of the Richard Rodgers Scholarship at The Juilliard School, where he studies with John Corigliano. He has also studied with Samuel Adler, Steven Stucky, Kevin Puts, Harold Meltzer, Richard Wilson, George Tsontakis, Stephen Hartke, John Harbison, and many others.
Recent awards include a 2017 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an ASCAP Morton Gould Award, the W.K. Rose Fellowship, and prizes in the Juilliard and Kaleidoscope Orchestra Composition Competitions. He was a composition fellow at the Aspen Music Festival in 2013. Healy’s work has appeared at The Apollo Theater, on the NY Philharmonic’s Biennial series,on “New Sounds” with John Schaefer (WNYC) and “Making Music” (WBAI), and the I Care if You Listen Mixtape. His commissions include harpist Nancy Allen, the Great Lakes Chamber Festival, Novus New Music, Kyo Shin-An Arts, Robert Fleitz and Carrie Frey, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. He studied piano for many years with Dennis Malone at the Crestwood Music School.