Jason and Melissa Nam first approached me about writing a wind band piece in honor of their late daughter, Evelyn Amanda Nam, in the fall of 2016. Early in the discussions, I proposed the idea of writing a choral work and then transcribing it for winds. I simply could not imagine writing this piece any other way.
Fortunately, Jason and Melissa welcomed the idea and quickly set out to find the perfect poem. After some deliberation, they settled on Emily Dickinson’s Hope is the Thing with Feathers. In this poem, Dickinson likened the abstract concept of hope to a bird—something that can be seen and felt in the physical sense.
From this very first metaphor, the connections to Evelyn were apparent. Evelyn is synonymous with both the singing bird and hope, as her name means “little bird” as well as “hoped for child.” I asked the Nams to expand upon the, at times, elusive feeling of hope. They explain:
Our relationship with hope has been layered and complicated for a long time. Throughout our family-building journey, we had hope and lost hope many times, disappointed and distraught by the process and outcomes time and again, year in and year out. But we’d always manage to find our way back to hope, clinging to it, desperate for it in particularly challenging moments. When Evelyn was born, even though the odds were stacked against her, we still hoped, forcing ourselves to see the possibility of her survival as the eventual probability as opposed to the narrow possibility. Because after all, she was the living proof that hope could endure through the unlikeliest of scenarios. When Evie died, it was the first time that we truly felt abandoned by hope, that it had failed us, our trusted friend and comrade in arms all those years. It felt personal. We were so angry and couldn’t see how we could ever allow ourselves to be hopeful again, lured in by its siren song. And yet, somehow, little by little, hope found its way back into our hearts, and we allowed ourselves to believe that happiness could be possible, that joy could be possible, that our family could grow, that both pain and sorrow, contentedness and longing could exist side-by-side, not “either/or” but “and”—despite the pain we had suffered and the devastating loss we had endured that had forever changed us. And that hope brought us to our son, Davis, ushered in by the beautiful birdsong of his sister, Evelyn, who is forever perched on our souls as our little family’s guardian angel. Our little bird, love and hope personified.
This commission would not be possible without the generous contributions, given with love, by the family and friends of the Nam Family.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
—Emily Dickinson (1862)
February 20, 2020, at the North Central CBDNA Conference by the Indiana University Concert Band; Jason Nam, conductor
Commissioned by Jason and Melissa Nam in loving honor of their daughter, Evelyn Amanda Nam