“We Are Survivors”

Written by White Snake Projects summer intern Kendall Bartel

Something about live music has always been especially emotive to me. Listening to performers often leaves me speechless, introspective, marveling at each musician continuously perfecting their craft. It’s no surprise that I find myself at any concert I can possibly attend. So when as a part of my internship, I helped organize the Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices community concert series, I learned to appreciate the work that goes into concerts with a new perspective. 

From left to right, Julia Scott Carey,* Melissa Joseph, Vera Savage, and Min Jin Chung* perform “The Big Deception.” *Members of Juventas New Music Ensemble
Photo: Kendall Bartel

For those who missed the opportunity to see these incredible shows live, Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices is a community concert series in partnership with White Snake Projects’ fall mainstage opera, I Am A Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams. This opera, with its world premiere in September, examines themes of immigration and the impact it has on lives and families. Cerise elucidated the reasons behind the production of these community concerts before each show, explaining that although community concerts and mainstage opera shows can draw very different crowds, she felt that the themes of immigration and its impacts on the lives of everyone it affects were important enough to be explored on both stages. Thus, the Sing Out Strong: Immigrant Voices series was commissioned, with an open call for immigrant writers and composers to contribute their talents receiving over 100 submissions. The chosen creatives then worked together to create beautiful, varied, powerful, and thought-provoking pieces that spoke to countless aspects of the immigrant experience. Songs ranged from joyful to melancholy, hopeful to hopeless, funny to angry, leaving the listener with an idea of the scale and depth of emotions experienced during the neverending process of becoming and living as an immigrant. A highlight for many was the concluding piece, “The Big Deception,” written by Irene De Silva and Ivette Sousa and adapted by Cerise Jacobs, and composed by Oliver Caplan. This piece was a duet describing the lived experience of Irene and Ivette as Ivette was ‘deceived’ by the American Embassy to return to Rio for her green card, only to be informed she was forced to stay in Rio without her entire family for 10 years at age 79. While this story seemed crushingly unimaginable for many listeners, it was all too real for Irene as she feared she would never see her mother again. The song ended triumphantly and uplifting as Irene and Ivette were finally reunited. The singers reported difficulty withholding tears as the real Irene and Ivette sat in the front row of the concert, a living testament to the incredible obstacles they overcame. As the mother and daughter sat, reunited in song and in real life, the music crescendoed to the final lines sung in brilliant harmony, “We are survivors”.