Writing "LISTEN", an emotional process for composer, Melissa Dunphy

Melissa Dunphy, composer at work.

Melissa Dunphy, composer at work.

Trigger Warning: sexual assault

Melissa Dunphy, composer of LISTEN - commissioned by Resonance for Women Singing Women - shared these thoughts about writing this piece based on the testimony of Prof. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and how relatable the texts are to her own experiences as a woman.

Dunphy will be at next week's performance, and is participating in the artist talk back session after the concert. We hope you will join us next Sunday, February 3 at 4pm at Cerimon House.

"Writing LISTEN was an emotional process. The first hurdle was deciding which excerpts from the testimonies of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford to set, which meant reading and listening and living inside these women’s harrowing stories for an extended period. And like most women, the most discomfiting aspect of listening to their testimony is the recognition. When I first heard about Ford’s experience, I was disturbed by its similarity to an incident that happened to me. I went to an all-girls private school, and we sometimes partnered with an all-boys private school for musicals. One night when I was 15, after a performance, while we were still on stage, one of the boys in the musical forcibly put his mouth and tongue on me as I struggled, shocked and horrified. Two days before Ford’s testimony, I posted about this on Facebook, and at least one my school friends remembered it happening, while others knew exactly which boy I was talking about. Something I mentioned in the discussion of the incident was that the worst part was the way he laughed when he saw my disgust and humiliation. So when Ford in her testimony the same week said almost the exact same words about Brett Kavanaugh’s laughter and its impact on her, my blood ran cold. 

As I was finalizing the piece today and going through it for the last time, I started crying. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times this has happened to me while composing. It’s interesting that it most often happens when I’m setting texts for women’s choruses. Something about massed women’s voices is incredibly powerful, both musically and symbolically, at this moment. I also grew up singing in all-girl choruses, so I think there’s something very deep that I identify with in the sound of a treble choir."

- Melissa Dunphy, composer