And Then I Remember (2009)
documentary oratorio

And Then I Remember

soprano soloist, double bass soloist, female duo (soprano and mezzo), male chorus (may be replaced by a single tenor and bass), chamber ensemble, recorded audio and optional video

50 minutes

premiered: March 27 and 28th, 2009
Duderstadt Video Studio, University of Michigan

Mary Bonhag, Soprano
Evan Premo, Double Bass
Robert, Boardman, Conductor

Click here to watch the complete And Then I Remember
(on vimeo)

Audio :

I.        Opening - trio, chorus, ensemble
II.       Corn Blue Shirt - soprano, double bass, cello, recorded audio
III.      It Was Like a, Like a Lightning - ensemble
IV.      March, 1940 - recorded audio
V.       And Then It All Began to Change - soprano, chorus, ensemble, recorded audio
VI.       Learning to Play the Piano - recorded audio
VII.     The Quiet Snow Fell Down - soprano, double bass, piano, duo, chorus, recorded audio
VIII.    The Last Ship - soprano, duo, chorus, ensemble
IX.       January, 1945 - soprano, double bass, recorded audio
X.         Slow Memory - ensemble
XI.        Coming to America - recorded audio
XII.      Closing - duo, chorus, ensemble

Video excerpts:
These file sizes are quite large!

DVDS of And Then I Remember are now available. Send an email to for ordering information.

About the piece:

My grandmother, Taimi Lepasaar, was born in Estonia in 1922.  Four years earlier, in the aftermath of World War I, Estonia had achieved independence for the first time.  This independence was short lived.  During World War II, Estonia was occupied first by the Russians (1940 – 41) and then the Germans (1941 – 44).  In 1944, as the Red Army was encroaching once more, my grandmother escaped Estonia along with her mother and father, husband Ants and two-year old daughter, Merike (my mother).  My grandmother left on the last ship out of the country before the Russians returned and sealed the borders.  The boat brought her to Germany and as the war was ending she gradually made her way west.  After the end of the war, she spent four years in displaced person camps before immigrating to the United States and beginning a new life here.  She found work as a church organist and later also as a music teacher.  For 35 years she taught music to middle school students in Providence, RI, where she still resides.

My grandmother has often told me stories about these experiences.  She is a marvelous storyteller.  A few years ago I asked my grandmother if I could record her stories with the idea of possibly building a piece around them.  She kindly agreed to many interviews over several years as the project gradually took shape.  During the summer of 2008, as I began to work intensely on this piece, I traveled to Estonia to conduct interviews with family members and old friends of my grandmother’s, and to do archival research.  My original intent was to emphasize the documentary side of the stories, including text from newspaper clippings and war time documents (like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact).  But as I thought more and more about the project, I began to feel that what was really important was my grandmother’s voice and her way of telling stories to me, not the historical details of the events described.  The text of the interviews with my grandmother is the core of the piece.  Portions of the interviews are played back as recorded audio and I have condensed other parts of the interviews into poems of sorts, which are sung by a solo soprano.     

To supplement the English language interviews texts, I have set portions of the Estonian national epic, Kalevipoeg, for a female duo and male chorus to sing.  Both Kalevipoeg and my grandmother’s stories are about a wandering journey of epic nature.  Both are permeated by an intense love of homeland, of Estonia, and the ruminations on memory, storytelling and the passage of time that are contained within Kalevipoeg seem to be echoed by my grandmother.  I sometimes feel that I understand my grandmother’s stories in the way that Estonians of an older generation understood Kalevipoeg.  The experiences my grandmother describes are so far removed from mine, in terms of time, place and intensity, that they acquire the sheen of a fantastic saga, yet at the same time, the stories feel so very personal, emotional and deeply true.