She Will Transform You is centered around a beautiful poem of Indian-American author Neelanjana Banerjee. She speaks about the beautiful relationship of an immigrant and her child to their country of origin, and the significant role a child from both cultures has in bridging the divide between them. As a child of immigrants, I have felt both that distance – of being the ‘other’ in both America and India – and also the resonance of being at home wherever I am.
The piece moves in and out of a Hindustani raga (p/d) called Rageshree — which has such a lush resonance about it, and is also harmonically grounded in an unusual way (with the 4th instead of the more common 5th, which makes our ear feel like it’s never quite ‘home’) – so it has both a sense of belonging and distance. It’s those two feelings – of belonging and distance – and the journey between them, that I wanted to explore in this work.
(recording not licensed for public use — if you are interested in perusing the work, please contact us to hear the archival recording)
Homeland: why do you elude me, tease me?
There, my ancestors don’t know me.
Here my neighbors say ‘go back home’ to me.
When will you let me name you, claim you?
But now, it is no longer about me—
for this newborn child,I have a plea:
Homeland, let this sweet child be,
never torture her like you’ve done [to] me.
Let her always find her way—surface streets and highways,
underpasses and bikepaths, and she will transform you
from concept to community, from skid row to safe haven.
With each milestone, let her dismantle your distance,
until one day, she arrives here
—palm tree shadow, desert dust in her eyes—
and smiles, and knows, she’s home.
— Neelanjana Banerjee
This piece was commissioned by University of Richmond for Richmond Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. It was premiered on April 13, 2019 by Richmond Symphony and Chorus, with conductor Steven Smith, in Richmond VA.
This version for SATB+flute has not been premiered yet.
Richmond Symphony has released a podcast talking about the orchestra/choir version of the work in depth. Listen here (starting at 9:47):
“The work’s text, from “Homeland” by the Indian-American poet Neelanjana Banerjee, is a mother’s contemplation of the conflict between her native or adopted cultures and her wish that her child can bridge that divide. Email couches the text much like a prayer, effectively answering the prayer in music of lyrical repose.” – The Letter V