American Waters explores bodies of water as literal and metaphorical barriers between us and the places and people we know and love. As a nation of immigrants, our histories are rich with stories of family coming to the United States across oceans or traveling from one side of this continent to another. My great-grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, leaving family and friends behind, and my own career has taken me to regions far from my native waters of Puget Sound. This piece digs into the emotional toll of these moves through the lens of water.
I created the text for this piece by stitching together fragments of folk songs from the U.S. and the United Kingdom. These fragments are like hints of memories from the past which are reinvented with new melodic lines. Whispered sounds emulate the noises of splashing surf and crashing waves.
American Waters was born out of a music and film course I took in graduate school. The original version was composed to accompany a montage of early black and white footage of rivers, waterfalls, and ocean surf from the Library of Congress. Later I expanded the piece to exist on its own. Please contact me if you are interested in performing the version with video.
Fragments of traditional folk songs
Away you rolling river
I cannot cross
Build me a boat
I cannot cross o're you rolling river
Down by the river
Down the sea
I'm bound away
Bound gently down
Over the ocean