by Jacob Duncan

A program of original compositions for full orchestra,  SATB vocal ensemble, jazz sextet, and vocal soloists by Louisville composer Jacob Duncan.

Trilogy of Symphonic Poems
This collection of symphonic poems, “War Prayers,” “Somnambulist in America,” and “Being,” explore themes of grief on a societal and whole species level. The music investigates the paradox of the coexistence of two constant and universal human habits: the longing for intimacy and the inclination to abandon one another.


“War Prayers”
Short story, “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

Full orchestra • SATB ensemble • Soprano soloist • Baritone soloist • Jazz sextet

In “The War Prayer” Mark Twain tosses scathing accusations at the hypocrisy of American Christians who support wars. In his own unique harmonic voice, Duncan re-stages Twain’s narrative as a commentary on all human wishes for gain that ignore the destructive consequences that those wishes engender. Duncan uses the power of the orchestra to capture sad humor, as well as a haunting soprano voice that is a harbinger of the little apocalypse that we carry in our hearts.


Somnambulist in America
Poem, “Let America Be America Again,”  by Langston Hughes

Full orchestra • SATB ensemble • Gospel Soloists • Rap soloist • Jazz soloists

For this piece the listener is a time-traveler on a journey from this year to 1870 with a stop in 1935.  At every juncture, the “Somnambulist” that is white America appears, apathetic in the face of racist state violence and murder. The words of Langston Hughes insist on cutting through the haunting and hounding collage with humanizing reason and ingenuity.


Prayer, Jacob Duncan, “We do not exist for ourselves. I am to be for you, now and forever. I am to be for you”

Full orchestra • Harp soloist • SATB ensemble • Vocal soloist • Jazz quartet

A hymn to humanity, this piece questions the reverence of competition, and is an invitation to radical compassion and radical listening.


Duncan has written numerous songs over his long career as a bandleader and jazz composer. Many of these were originally written to be performed with his avant-rock group Liberation Prophecy. He has arranged two for the orchestra.


“Lonely Lament”
The earth dances with the sky at night while we are sleeping. “Lonely Lament” grants us permission to engage in cosmic romance and ritual dance in the inevitable absence of human activity. We admire their dance and support their movements through our deepest longing and realization that we are to be with the sky and the earth, and we are of them.


“Nova Vita”
Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus, abstulit error! Nova Vita! -Virgil (revised)

How I looked, how I languished, how the fatal delusion stole my heart away. New life!

The program finale of Never Was. Will Be. draws its inspiration from the continued growth and rebirth of humans in the universe. We will not survive this existence. Our species will go extinct.  The next humans might love just a little more, have just a little more compassion for others, and find more balance in the care taking of our home. They may also give way to a new species who, instinctively and without competition or selfishness, find true balance within and through the universe.