About this Piece
The piece But, we press on... was birthed in a phone conversation following the powerful delivery of Amanda Gorman's 2021 inaugural poem, "The hill we climb.” In the spirit of her call to resilience and hope, Los Angeles composer Derrick Skye and West Hartford, CT composer Ellen Gilson Voth, collaborating from coast to coast, wove together original texts with statements from LACC singers, a quotation from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a quotation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) and several poems of abolitionist and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911).
Opening with repetitive motives beneath a chorale tune suggesting lament, the piece moves from a reckoning of the struggles of the present time toward a recognition of the role we have, individually and collectively, to chart a better path forward. Fragments of James Weldon Johnson's "Lift every voice and sing" are heard first in the accompaniment, later in the voices; the second half of the chorale tune then emerges with a different tonal center and coupled with a new text. Body percussion augments the section on "rising up" before the opening rhythmic motives reappear in statements "for our children's children"...a merging of past, present, and future. In the end, the "pressing on" is as much or more for those that follow us, as it is for ourselves—an ongoing work that remains unfinished as the piece gradually fades. —Ellen Gilson Voth