Cindy Sheehan Cantata

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Status: on hold

I've back-burnered this project to focus on the Port Huron Project, although Brian Kim Stefans and I are talking about doing a studio recording with the Brown's Tones acapella group.


The Cindy Sheehan Cantata is a musical reenactment/reinterpretation of a speech given in Union Square, New York City on September 19, 2005 by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier who was killed in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan, September 19, 2005
After camping outside President Bush's ranch in Texas to protest the war, Sheehan went on a national speaking tour. When she was speaking at a protest in Union Square in New York City on September 19. 2005, the police shut her down because she didn't have a permit for amplification (this is a tactic the police uses to censor protest speech in Union Square). The Cindy Sheehan Cantata re-stages Sheehan's speech as a musical performance delivered by an acapella group. This project has three primary goals: to transform Sheehan's speech into performance art; to draw attention to the political censorship that is taking place in Union Square; and to support the anti-war movement.

Contacts and Leads

News Coverage,fergusonshee,67983,2.html
"New York City's Union Square continues to struggle for its identity amidst conflict between law enforcement agencies, public protesters, and cultural and recreational activities," by Joshua Weiner

CounterPunch articles:

NYPD Unplugs Cindy Sheehan:

"Silencing Cindy Sheehan in Union Square should show us all what we are really up against. Over 1,900 U.S. troops have died thus far in Iraq, not to mention countless civilians. And for what? The NYPD and government officials don't want us to ask that important question, which means we have to be even more vigilant in our efforts to expose Bush's war for the fraud that it is."

The Fight for Free Speech in Union Square:

"Activists do indeed face almost constant police harassment. Their megaphones are confiscated so frequently that they have to buy them in bulk, and they face arrest, fines, trumped-up legal charges, and heavy sentences of unpaid 'community service.' They defy repressive city ordinances banning the use of signs larger than 2 feet by 3 feet without a permit, banning the use of amplification without a permit and, on good days, they also end up defying the ban on public gatherings of more than 24 people without a permit. [...]

"One of the main organizers of the Union Square speak-outs, Geoffrey Blank, will go on trial in November [2005] for charges relating to a large number of petty infractions like those mentioned above, and is facing a possible four-year prison sentence."

Sheehan interview:

Washington post on Camp Casey:

CNN story on Camp Casy:

On Casey Sheehan:

Sheehan Speeches

Sheehan Bio Info

Sweet Child O' Mine Lyrics

Shostakovich, Antiformalist Rayok (1948-1968)

The musical selection for "Jester Day" (Kharms/Zoshchenko), Shostakovich's cantata is a biting satire of the "musical activism" of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The basic facts about the piece (together with numerous links for further research) are available at Wikipedia. Fleshing out the historical background, Nikolai Kachanov explains:

Antiformalist Rayok [...] is an extraordinarily daring musical satire on the absurd structures of the Soviet bureaucracy. The word "rayok" in Russian means "little paradise," used ironically here in reference to the "heaven" attained by these buffoonish Party officials for their service to Stalin. It also evokes the title of an earlier Russian musical satire, written in 1870: Mussorgsky's Rayok (or The Puppet Show), which ridiculed members of the musical establishment ("puppets") who had criticized Mussorgsky and the "Mighty Handful" composers. Mussorsgky's Rayok satirizes the relationship between the artist and the authorities, using direct musical and verbal quotations. Shostakovich's Antiformalist Rayok continues this tradition but on a much bigger scale: here it becomes a political satire.

(More here.)

The St. Petersburg Musical Archive continues the story and explains the sources of biting humour in the piece (the reason it's paralleled with Zoshchenko and Kharms):

The work on [Rayok] started in May 1948 as a direct response to the events of the early months of that year. These events were the Resolutions of the Communist Party Central Committee of the 10th February, and numerous meetings (some of them lasting for weeks), rallies, and press publications denouncing those belonging to the "anti- national, formalistic line in music."

It is hard to over-emphasize the pain of the blow caused to Shostakovich by the events. The author of the Seventh "Leningrad" Symphony, which had told the whole world of the horrors of war and of heroic Russian people, and which was performed with enormous success in dozens of countries by the most prominent conductors and orchestras, was ruthlessly and pointlessly criticized in public not only by Party bosses, but also by fellow composers, musicologists, and performers. He was called a composer with "an underdeveloped sense of melody", a maker of "disgusting" music, "cacophony", and "brain-twisters".

Shostakovich was dismissed from the faculty of the Conservatory of Leningrad "as personnel reduction"; the Soviet Union's largest orchestras and performers ceased to play his music (to be on the safe side). Shostakovich offered excuses, extended "thanks for the criticism," promised to reform, and assured that he "will try to compose music that is clear and close to people." He issued an oratorio titled "Song of the Woods," a number of patriotic mass songs, and music to war movies. And in the meantime, he was secretly working on [Rayok], in which he sneered at his degraded critics and colleagues, letting loose his biting irony and sparkling wit.

[Rayok] is the only large work written by Shostakovich to his own words. The plot of [Rayok] is a meeting of 'music figures and figuresses' dedicated to "Realism and Formalism in Music". The Host successively gives the floor to three speakers. The delighted house acclaims the "experts'" speeches. The literary base of the text are the actual declarations of Party leaders of the time (Numberone [Yedinitsyn] clearly resembles Stalin, Numbertwo [Dvoikin] resembles Zhdanov who was the mastermind of the events of 1948, and Numberthree [Troikin] sounds like Shepilov), their typical speech habits, even wrong accents in words. [RJS note: Supposedly, the germ of the whole piece was the speech Shepilov made at the 1948 meeting, in which he recited the names of the "classics" whom Soviet composers should strive to emulate: "Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-KorSAkov..." (the correct pronunciation is "Rimsky-KORsakov"). At this moment,a friend recalled, Shostakovich, who had seemed to be dozing off, suddenly woke up and muttered, "Why, it's a minuet! GLIN-ka, Tchai-KOV-sky, RIM-sky-Kor-SA-kov..." He went home and wrote out this "minuet," and the rest of the piece followed.] The role of various citations in the [Rayok] music is important. For example, during the speeches of Numberone and Numbertwo we hear a continuous flourish traditional for such kind of meetings; the speech of Numberone is mainly based on the melody of the Georgian folk song Suliko so much loved by the ethnic Georgian Stalin; the final episode of Numbertwo's speech features the popular Caucasian dance Lezginka; the address of Numberthree starts with the tune of the Russian folk song Kamarinskaya, followed successively by intonations of Tikhon Khrennikov's song from the popular movie "True Friends", the Russian folk song Kalinka, and finally, in the scene with chorus, the famous chanson couplets from Planquette's comical opera The Bells of Corneville (Les cloches de Corneville).

The first version of [Rayok] was ready by the summer of 1948. Shostakovich showed it, in secrecy, to just a few of his closest friends. The sociopolitical changes of the 'Khruschev Thaw' in the late Fifties?early Sixties justified hopes for a public performance and publication of the opus, so the composer completed the second, refined version, with an enhanced role for the choir, and with a number of remarks and notes directly related to the behavior of the performers. With the ban on performance of the Thirteenth Symphony of Shostakovich in 1962, and a line of loud political trials in the Soviet Union, the hopes for a public performance of [Rayok] were dumped, but all this urged the composer to issue the third, and last, version of the opus, in which Numberthree's speech was extended and amended. According to the composer's close friends, [Rayok] in its final version was completed in 1968.

Dmitri Zhitomirski has more (scroll down to the words "10th February 1948," just over halfway-down the page).

NYC April 2006 Peace March: April 30, 2006

Thousands in N.Y.C. protest Iraq war

NYCLU Protecting Protest Project

Brian's Page

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