March 12, 2011
This concert commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the infamous industrial tragedy that was a catalyst for improved factory safety standards and workers’ compensation laws in New York City. In remembrance of the 146 garment workers who lost their lives in the disaster, The Manhattan Choral Ensemble performed Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem for organ and strings and a set of new works created especially for the occasion. The MCE commissioned four New York City-based composers – George Andoniadis, Victoria Bond, Ricardo Llorca, and Martha Sullivan – to set selections from Jonathan Fink’s sequence of poems “Conflagration and Wage: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911.” These pieces were interspersed with the movements of the Requiem, creating a unique tribute to the victims of the 1911 tragedy.
Requiem, Maurice Duruflé (1902 – 1986)
Your voice is gone, Victoria Bond
Smoke and Light, Martha Sullivan
Identifying Bodies at the Twenty-Sixth Street Pier, Ricardo Llorca
A young woman after escaping the fire, George Andoniadis
Organist – David Enlow
This project is made possible in part with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
The MCE is a proud member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.
“Conflagration and Wage: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911” is Jonathan Fink’s 18-section poem. Mr. Fink was a recipient of a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry.
The following four sections from “Conflagration” have been set for choir and orchestra and will be premiered at this concert.
Click here to read the full 18 sections.
4. Letter from a Young Woman to Her Mother
I want you here now more than ever.
Money comes so slowly. Every day I save.
I’ve dreamt of home for months: the smell
of lilacs in the garden, Sister’s voice in prayer
across the table, fingers interlaced in mine.
I cry each night returning to my room.
The silence there is lonelier than any sound.
Each night, a part of me expects to hear you
when I step inside the door, and every night
that part of me draws back when no one answers.
Silence is a type of dream for me.
Imagine what the three of us would say
around a table filled with meat and bread,
with butter and, for each of us, a glass of wine
(although I know you say I shouldn’t drink).
I do my best to hope for smaller things,
the sound of money in the jar, a better job.
Some nights I tell myself that you have come.
I see you standing in the doorway to my room,
but even in my dreams your voice is gone.
7. Smoke and Light
The body is a bull. It seizes at the sent of smoke.
The nostrils flair. Its pulse becomes a drum
repeating through the arms, the chest, the tunnels
of the ears. The truth of fear is that emotion dims.
All thought dissolves in muscle, memory in bone.
The leisure of desire—the future one assumes—
evaporates like breath on glass. And at the vision
of the fire, perhaps the words that hover
in the sound of labor, words the women speak
into machines, into the pull, the forward motion
of a needle driving into cloth, become the sound
of breath, the sound of air releasing. Light is always
light and in the moment when the women rise—
before the heat becomes a wall, before it sweeps
against them, pressing each girl back, a heat
that almost lifts them from the ground—perhaps the light
is like a beacon in the room. Instead of passing
over them, it holds, a giant eye illuminating
them as strangers, children in a row, as women lifting
dresses to their knees and wading from a shore.
17. Identifying Bodies at the Twenty-Sixth Street Pier
Policemen stand among the rows of coffins.
Holding lanterns out, the men illuminate the dead
as crowds file past. The women and the men
all move in single file. They lean in close or glance
ahead as if they’re watching for a ship. The coffins
line the inside of the pier and when a body is identified
the lid is closed, the coffin taken from the row.
The husbands and the wives, the daughters
and the sons, respond by sometimes falling
to their knees, or turning back, the crowd dividing.
What familiar item draws the family members
from the line—a ring, a scarf, a mended stocking?
In the moment when the men and women recognize
the body lying at their feet a stillness enters them:
a mother’s posture straightens, palms together
at her waist, her fingers intertwined; a father tugs
the bottom of his jacket, starts to speak, then only nods.
The officers must hold the lanterns through the night.
What preparation steadies men for this?
What training stills the light within their hands?
18. A Young Woman After Escaping the Fire
I pushed my way into the crowd and strangers
closed around me. Walking through them felt
like I was passing through a storm. The water
in the street was to my ankles. When a woman placed
her hands against my shoulders so that I would stop,
I raised my head. She seemed so angry, almost shaking me.
She said that I must wait; I must not leave. She asked
my name and when I didn’t speak she turned to stop
another girl. I felt the urge to run. A man reached out
and took my wrist, but when I shook him loose
he backed away. I slid between the men and women
in the crowd until it parted right in front of me.
I’d walked this route for months. I knew the buildings,
knew the sounds of venders in the streets, the smell
like rotten fish that rises from the grates. A man across
the street walked briskly back and forth. He’d start to run,
then stop and walk the other way. He called a woman’s name.
He grabbed at strangers, turned them towards him.
Something in him made them still, some wildness
as he searched each face before he let them pass.