Lift Up Thine Ears | Michael Daugherty, composer

Lift Up Thine Ears
for orchestra (2021)

1. “Lend me your ears”
(William Shakespeare; 1599)

2. “It rings in the ear”
(Martin Luther King; 1963)

3. “The Spirit is the Conscious Ear”
(Emily Dickinson; 1899)

Instrumentation: –; 3 percussion; harp; strings

Publisher: Michael Daugherty Music

Duration: 20 minutes

World Premiere: World premiere by the Omaha Symphony, Thomas Wilkins, conductor; June 11-12, 2021; Commissioned in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Omaha Symphony. The concert will be livestreamed June 12 for the League of American Orchestras Conference.

Program Note:

Lift Up Thine Ears (2021) for orchestra was commissioned in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Omaha Symphony. The theme of my three-movement, 20-minute symphony is how the human spirit can be uplifted by learning to listen with new ears.

The first movement recalls Shakespeare’s dramatic words, “Lend me your ears,” from his play Julius Caesar. These four words are echoed in a four-note musical motive that I have composed, which is heard at the beginning of the movement, played by the strings. I then develop the four-note motive through various orchestrations, melodic transpositions and rhythmic transformations.

The title of the second movement comes from Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he wrote “it rings in the ear” as a lamentation and call for action after he was arrested for leading a civil rights protest. I have composed a musical lament introduced by the English horn and harp, developed by the woodwind section, and then leading into the cellos and French horns playing a melody that evokes Dr. King as “a wayfaring stranger traveling this world of woe.”

The third movement turns a phrase from Emily Dickinson’s poem–“The Spirit is the Conscious Ear”–into a celebration of the orchestra as a spirit of community created through the power and energy of music. As they listen to each other, the conductor and the musicians of the orchestra, playing diverse instruments in the woodwind, brass, percussion and string sections, collaborate in pulsating rhythmic counterpoint to create an uplifting experience for all listeners.

~Program note by Michael Daugherty

"Lend me your ears"
(William Shakespeare; 1599)
"It rings in the ear"
(Martin Luther King; 1963)
"The Spirit is the Conscious Ear"
(Emily Dickinson; 1899)
Conductor Thomas Wilkins and composer Michael Daugherty at rehearsal with Omaha Symphony - 6/8/21