We Wear the Mask was written for Castle of Our Skins for the 2019 I AM A MAN Celebration, encapsulating the essence of the very famous civil rights declaration for human dignity. It was also my second gift to COOS as their composer-in-residence for the 2018-19 season. The piece highlights the very famous poem of Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask, in which Dunbar sheds light on the very painful act of having to pretend to have a very stable and jovial disposition in order to appease your oppressors. It refers to the many situations that black Americans and many other people of color must bear in order to survive in a society, that in many ways, has been constructed to neglect them.
I chose this text with the accompanying theme of I AM A MAN because of the sheer strength victims of racism and bigotry display in the very face of oppression. They fight and maintain dignity by having the courage to press on for the sake of their children and families. In the work, there is a striking contrast between the sweet nature that the "mask" portrays and the sense of disgust the person truly feels. The timbres are decorated by a looming theme that comes and goes throughout the ensemble, presenting this "mask." My intention was to capture the conflicting emotions that Dunbar has so beautifully laid out in this poem of unfortunate reality.