No One Saves the Earth from us but us
for mezzo-soprano and piano, with or without live electronics
Music by Lisa Neher
Poetry by Felicia Zamora and Craig Santos Perez
Score available for purchase in August 2022.
Contact Lisa to be notified when the score is available.
As I wrote No One Saves the Earth from Us But Us, a record-breaking heatwave brought temperatures as high as 116 degrees to my city of Portland, Oregon. Just 9 months earlier, we fled our home as wildfires, less than 10 miles away, produced off the charts air pollution for weeks. Climate change, a phrase that has been with me as long as I can remember, is now something we experience on a daily basis.
Craig Santos Perez and Felicia Zamora’s powerful, heartbreaking, gorgeous poetry speaks to this reality with unflinching clarity and directness. Inspired by their words, the piece holds space for mourning, for fear, for anger, for all of the emotions we experience in the face of this global catastrophe. It affirms that we are not alone in our grief, but neither are we off the hook for taking action. It’s a kick in the pants to level up our efforts as individuals and, most importantly, as communities.
The piece was designed to be a remote collaboration between the performers, a way of creating a song cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic and without burning fossil fuels by flying across the country. With this in mind, I wrote music in which one of the performers often leads, providing a pickup or hook to the other. Some movements, such as In the Bloomberg Article, involve almost no syncing between the performers, while others, such as We Want to Believe, work almost like a reverse accompaniment track. Because we had the benefit of pre-recording the vocals, I could ask for layered effects such as whispered or spoken text at the same time as sung text, or for the singer to harmonize with herself, as she does in Among Starving Polar Bears. Mezzo-soprano Quinn Patrick Ankrum and poet Felicia Zamora recorded the vocal parts in small chunks which were edited and loaded into software designed by Jonah Elrod. During the live performance, Avery plays while triggering the vocal events using a foot pedal.
The music ranges in style from tuneful grooves to wild chromaticism and clusters to experimental techniques. As pianist Elizabeth Avery observed during one rehearsal, “once the pianist is reaching inside the piano, you know things are not normal anymore”—and that, in fact, is the point. The final movement sets an erasure version of Zamora’s poetry, in which the blank negative space on the page is translated into a series of bell-like repeating chords in the piano, with individual words or short phrases from the singer hovering in between as a benediction.
No One Saves the Earth from Us But Us was commissioned by Quinn Patrick Ankrum, mezzo-soprano, and Elizabeth Avery, piano, and sponsored by the University of Cincinnati, Office of the Vice President for Research. The work is inspired by Greta Thunberg and dedicated to her generation and those who will follow.