Song for a Small Guest
In the summer of 2016, I participated in Art Song Lab, a project which pairs composers and poets to create an art song together. I was paired with Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, who eventually became one of my favorite poets alive, and also a dear friend.
Song for a Small Guest came out of several conversations about post 9/11 racism, and what it’s like being a Middle Eastern person in the United States. This project came to us and was less of a product of our skills as artists and more of a message which we were fated to share.
Song for a Small Guest opens many conversations about who the piece is for. I still cannot answer it, but I know it’s not for white people, although it might be a good source of trying to understand their privilege. It’s not for any person of color because the issue must be firmly Middle Eastern, although this can be a great source of community building. This piece is not for my fellow Middle Eastern brethren, even though it may be a source of healing, as it was for me. The only person this piece may be for is Alan Shenu, the boy with the red shoes, a victim of white sensationalism, whose photo was shared across the internet in a frenzy because somehow white people are ok with looking at the dead body of a beautiful brown boy. I hope that with this piece, it will help his soul rest.
It seems as though we are in the midst of a cultural shift where social issues are entering privileged spaces (the classical music world in this case) with more intensity than before. There were many songs that were social justice related at Art Song Lab and the people were dedicated to creating a safe space. In Vancouver, where the festival took place, I found myself in a loving and supportive community right away, something I have to work really hard to find here in the US.
Yet, I also witnessed people reacting by refusing to listen to the voices of the oppressed. There is a strong desire to get away from an issue and stay neutral, especially in the art world. It is for that reason that white people will never understand this work.
White listener, it’s important to understand that we are angry, but a big reason why we are angry is that no one sees the love that is there among my own people. For my listeners who are people of color, I hope this piece will be a source of healing for you.
God bless Alan Shenu and his family. May Allah look over him and support his loving family as they grieve and struggle to live in a world where they endure so much suffering. May God grant justice to those who have abused his name and bring comfort to those who grieve him.
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