Composer

And Then I Remember

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

duration: 50 minutes

And Then I Remember was premiered by Mary Bonhag, soprano, Evan Premo, double bass, and Robert Boardman, conductor, at the University of Michigan Duderstadt Video Studio, Ann Arbor, MI, on March 27 and 28th, 2009.

Video:

And Then I Remember, Part I:

And Then I Remember, Part II:

Program Notes:

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.

Reviews:

Lembit Beecher’s searing oratorio…employs microscopic historical narratives, the minutiae of human relations, and the cultural contingencies that shape them, to achieve a work of striking universality.

– Carl Schoonover (host at WKCR-89.9 FM) – January 23, 2012

The work juxtaposed voice recordings of Beecher’s grandmother with live music, evoking laughter at times, chilling nostalgia and a sense of timelessness… Left with repeating phrases still ringing in my thoughts — “All the dreams were broken,” “Maybe there is no tomorrow,” “Why did it happen this way” and “This has been a journey” — …[And Then I Remember] had a satisfying, complete and paradigm-shifting conclusion.

– Joel Luks (CultureMap Houston) – March 13, 2011

 The pièce de résistance turned out…to be Beecher’s ode to his Estonian grandmother Taimi Lepasaar, And Then I Remember… …The dramatic oratorio, as it’s called in the program, is a propulsive, lyrical journey of remembrance by Beecher’s grandmother who lived in Tartu, a village in Estonia on the eve of WW II… …It’s this old lady’s poetic way of speaking and Beecher’s sympathetic musical seating that carries the work so steadily. Ants is played by the double bass, rich and warm…

‘…The days of our lives go quickly by,’ quotes the Kalevipoeg, ‘at full speed the hours pass, mortals find no lasting homeland, wayfarers no peaceful hillock in this earthly life.’ All the artists involved in the haunting And Then I Remember deserve to be remembered, too.

– DL Groover (Dance Source Houston) – March 18, 2011

 At times dramatic, powerful and lyrical, this remarkable tale of survival and rebirth invokes the universal values that bring us together as human beings regardless of age, ethnicity or socio-economic background.”

                  – Nicole Paiement (Conductor and Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle) – November 10, 2013

Bravo! Very touching and warm, with nice musical surprises throughout…[And Then I Remember] had a refreshing directness and lack of fear of emotion.”

– William Bolcom (Composer) – April 7, 2010