The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom

The New York Choral Society presents The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom, a multidisciplinary digital performance of composer Joel Thompson’s choral work The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom from Maya Angelou’s Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? in collaboration with choreographer Marjani Forté-Saunders.

Joel Thompson is an Atlanta-based composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, best known for the choral work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, which was premiered November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and Dr. Eugene Rogers and won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition.

Marjani Forté-Saunders is a choreographer, performer, educator, community organizer, and mother. She refers to dance and embodiment as her sorcery—revolutionary, transformative, wild, ancient, and fresh. Her practice is informed by years in anti-racist organizer training and as a lead facilitator with Urban Bush Women’s (UBW) Builders, Organizers and Leaders through Dance. She is anchored in a steady collaboration with partner and composer Everett Asis Saunders. Working together as 7NMS, their project A Prophet’s Tale has been awarded residencies at Bard College (2019), Baryshnikov Arts Center (2019), Petronio Residency Center (2019), and The Yard (2020).

The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom premieres Wednesday, January 15, 2022 on The New York Choral Society website and YouTube channel

The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom (2016) – Joel Thompson

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

– Maya Angelou, from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? (1983)

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