Age of the Deceased (Six Months in Chicago)

Instrumentation: solo cello (with recitation)

Duration: 11 minutes

Date of Composition: 2014


Commissioned by and written for Bryan Hayslett

Age of the Deceased (Six Months in Chicago) for solo cello with recitation directly addresses the relentless gun violence that continues to plague Chicago. Aside from the high number of individuals killed and families impacted, the age of the victims is particularly shocking. Of the 146 shooting-related deaths that occurred in the first six months of 2014 (and chronicled in this piece), 44 victims were in their teens and 51 were in their twenties.

Age of the Deceased recites in order the ages of those who have died from gun violence in Chicago between January and June 2014. The pacing of the recitations is directly proportional to the timeline of the shootings.

The piece also explores the role of proximity in our understanding of and reaction to gun violence. For the first 2/3 of the piece, the recitation of each victim's age is immediately followed by a two-note chord. One of the chord pitches (a very low pedal tone) remains static throughout. The other chord pitch varies according to the distance of these crimes from two geographic points. For the first third of the piece (January-February), I plotted the distance of each shooting from my own home in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the far north side. The further away the crime, the higher the variable chord pitch and the quieter the dynamic level assigned to the chord. Crimes that occurred in close proximity are assigned a lower variable pitch (closer to the pedal tone) and louder dynamic levels.

While gun violence has occurred in my neighborhood (the image associated with this track is a bus stop a few blocks from my apartment where an innocent bystander was shot and killed), the number of incidents pales in comparison to the other geographic point used for the second third of the piece (March-April). That point corresponds to the Englewood neighborhood on the south side. This shift in geography can be clearly heard with the sudden frequency of loud, low chords, reflecting a very different and tragic reality.

The final third of the piece (May-June) contrasts dramatically from what precedes it in all but one way, the unceasing and chilling recitation of the ages of the deceased.

In the end, I hope this piece brings renewed awareness of the horrible toll this epidemic is taking on our city and, in particular, on kids and young adults. Furthermore, as a community, we cannot ignore this tragedy regardless of its proximity to our everyday lives.