In 2016, Beth Willer and I began a conversation about a commissioned piece that would be a 21st response to the African-American spiritual tradition. But the piece was also to be a concert companion to a work by James Kallembach on the White Rose student resistance movement in Nazi Germany. So, my brain began to think about the image of the rose, and how our pieces might share that common image.
A contemporary issue I wanted to address was the refugee crisis, and the image of the rose blooming above the thorns came to mind. As the creative process continued, I “heard” echoes of the spiritual “Steal Away” come into the mix, with its storm imagery (“green trees are bending…”). Eventually I came to the image of the walled garden — a shelter for tender life — as the image of the love of a refugee mother for her child, with no other protection for her “little rose” than the “wall” of her loving arms and care.
Thus the mother’s lullaby rises amidst strains of “Steal Away,” and in addition to the storm reference (“green trees are bending”), I also quote the spiritual’s final phrase: “I ain’t got long to stay here.” No refugee mother abides long in one place, nor does any child stay safe within a mother’s arms for very long.
Hush-a-hush, the wind’s a-blowing,
but it’s quiet in the garden,
Grow in peace, little rose, for a while.
Hush-a-hush, the rain is falling,
but it’s dry beneath the bower,
Rest your head, little rose, for a while.
Little rose, little rose
Little breath of Love Divine,
None like you will ever be:
The newest flow’r on the Oldest Tree.
Little rose, little rose,
Born to heal the wounds of Time,
None like you ever was, little rose.
Hush-a-hush, the storm is raging,
Hide you here, in the garden,
Bide in peace, little rose, yet a while.
Soon enough you will be going,
Look for friends to gather round you;
They will be, little rose, your garden wall.
(Thorns will do, when you find none at all.)
Little rose, little rose….