A new piece of choral music, conceived during and for the year of the pandemic, is premiering the day most pandemic restrictions are being lifted in Philadelphia.
“We Got Time” by Matana Roberts was commissioned by the Grammy-winning choral group The Crossing, in partnership with the Annenberg Center and Ars Nova Workshop. It is the second of four concerts in The Crossing’s annual Month of Moderns summer festival, all of them performed outside using a series of 24 6-foot speakers (that is, roughly human-sized) wired to the 24 singers’ individual mics.
During the performance, audience members walk a loop defined by the speakers through Woodland Cemetery in West Philadelphia as the performers sing about 30 feet away, distanced from one another as well as the audience.
Called Echoes Amplification kits, the technology was designed by The Crossing’s sound engineer Paul Vazquez for socially distanced performances.
“Whether or not that’s necessary at this point is kind of moot,” said conductor and artistic director Donald Nally. “But actually it’s kind of fun, because you realize that you’re doing these amazing environmental pieces that you might not have done otherwise.”
Roberts wrote “We Got Time” for Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police inside her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 2020. The title comes from an outburst delivered during grand jury testimony regarding the shooting of Taylor: When a district attorney’s office investigator explained that time constraints did not allow him to show all of the police body cam footage, an unidentified juror shouted, “We got time!”
The words sung are drawn from that grand jury hearing, street demonstrations that followed the shooting (“Say her name!”), and phrases from American founding documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The piece also features names of other Black women, who, like Taylor, were killed by police. There are melodic references to folk songs such as “This Land is Your Land” and hymns like “Pass Over to Thy Rest.”