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Let Them Not Say

“Let Them Not Say” is for SSAATTBB choir, quite tricky, high ranges needed. Words by Jane Hirshfield can be found here, or below: all rights to the words are reserved, but the music is available for performance under a Creative Commons license and the words can be used as part of that. Click here to see a virtual choir video of the piece, created by the Piedmont Singers. The pitch of each phrase for the top soprano line is dictated by the global average temperature in each year since 1979, the year I was born.

Kantos Chamber Choir gave the first UK performance of “Let Them Not Say” in Manchester on 19th June 2022.

This piece was shortlisted for the Scottish Awards for New Music in 2021, and received its in-person premiere on 21st May 2022 in Ember Choral Arts’ concert “Can We Talk… About Our Home?” in New York City. The concert is also available as a recorded livestream. Click here for concert details and to book livestream tickets.

Download the choir-only score or a score with a piano reduction.

Email Chris Hutchings for queries.

Let Them Not Say – Jane Hirshfield, 1953-

Let them not say:   we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:   we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something: 

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.

—2014

Published in Ledger, available from Bloodaxe Books

If you are performing this piece, a programme note is provided below:

“Let Them Not Say”, setting a text by California-based poet Jane Hirshfield, looks at what future generations will think of our failure to tackle global warming earlier, or more effectively, than we are currently doing. Our current actions are basically a game of ‘chicken’ with global climate breakdown – nobody wants to be the first to take the full, costly, drastic action required to have a decent chance of solving the issue, so countries and companies make at best a half-hearted token effort, doing “not-enough” despite all the evidence, or even burning fossil fuels in quantities sufficient to take us over dangerous thresholds, with full knowledge of the damage it is doing, and the consequences for future generations, which are already being suffered by the poorest in the Global South.

Musically, the setting is dark and tense throughout, modulating with the use of augmented chords at the end of each verse and very seldom settling in one key. The soprano line constantly, slowly rises throughout the piece – and if you think this is symbolic of global warming, you would be right. The average pitch of each soprano phrase is dictated by the temperature since 1979, the year of the composer’s birth, and you can hear a stretch of several years when the temperature was almost constant coinciding, helpfully, with the words “we did nothing”, before the slow but inexorable rise begins again. The average temperature today is almost a degree warmer than it was in 1979, and many places have seen a much bigger rise locally, from comfortable to almost unbearable; the sopranos are given the thankless task of reflecting this, and by the end, the other singers are also wrenched up to near the limits of their vocal ranges.

The piece was recorded by the Piedmont Singers for a video released on Earth Day 2021, and was also performed by Ember Choral Arts in New York and New Jersey in May 2022, and by Kantos Choir in Manchester, UK, in June 2022. “Let Them Not Say” is part of a project called #ChoirsForClimate, releasing music and resources that choirs and singers can use for fighting against climate change, by fundraising or campaigning – see www.choirsforclimate.com for details. Many of the pieces there are released under Creative Commons licenses, including this one, and I thank Jane Hirshfield for her very kind permission to use her incredibly powerful text for it. The poem is from Jane’s collection Ledger, published by Bloodaxe Books and available from all good bookstores.