Winner of the INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE OF WOMEN IN MUSIC Miriam Gideon Prize for 2021
Arias from Friday After Friday
a song cycle for soprano (or mezzo), flute, violin, cello
(from the chamber opera in development, Friday After Friday)
"I have no medical training"
"Look at you, Layla"
"Five different men asked for my hand in marriage"
"At 6:30 every morning"
"When the women poured out into the streets"
- YEAR: 2017-2019
- TEXT: libretto by Rachel J. Peters
- DURATION: 20-25 minutes (entire cycle)
- THEMES: Syrian war, women in war, solidarity among women
Christine Honein, soprano; Catherine Flinchum, flutes;
Sarah Whitnah, violin; Richard von Foerster, cello
Lamont School of Music, February 2019
TEXTS by Rachel J. Peters
Aria #1: “I have no medical training”
I have no medical training,
But after a massacre you learn quickly,
Overnight in fact.
The real doctors are arrested, detained, shot.
The real hospitals are bombed out daily.
We have little more than a tent.
I clean out bullet wounds with my bare fingers.
Thank God I know how to sew.
We amputate limbs before infections spread.
A surgeon left behind a bag of artificial joints
Metal shoulders, metal knees.
We replace parts of people taken by war.
As I operate,
I shut off my feelings
Like the sudden blackout of the power grid.
I forget the pools of blood
Soaking through my shoes.
I do not mourn the lifeless bodies
Arriving on the hour.
Today I saw the severed arms
Of a mother and her daughter,
Separated from their bodies
Still clasping hands in death.
No, we have no artificial joints for that.
Aria #2: “Look at you, Layla”
Look at you, Layla, so beautiful
My violet eyeshadow works well on you.
I wore this dress when I was just thirteen.
You are so small for fifteen,
It will fit you even better,
Soon as I finish this hem.
If only your father could see you today!
Just between you and me, Layla,
I am not proud of this choice.
I wanted a graduation day for you.
But three hundred dollars
Is more than we may ever see.
Because of you,
Your brothers and sisters will survive.
You don’t understand this yet,
But this is the bravest thing a girl can do.
Be a kind wife to Ismail.
Sneak books when you can.
Stand still now.
Aria #3: “Five different men asked for my hand in marriage”
Five different men asked for my hand in marriage
To restore my honor, they said.
I refused them all.
“But who will love you now, Ahed?
Who will take care of you?
Who will keep you company?”
Spare me your chivalry.
I survived six months in Adra.
I can take care of myself.
Every morning I wake up alone
Feels like my first day back in the sunlight.
“But if you do not marry me, Ahed,
Who will give you children?”
Why bring children into this cemetery for the living?
Beneath the desert ground,
My heart is hard as volcanic rock.
It will not melt until Adra is empty,
Until all are free.
Everything but death has already happened to me.
Pity is redundant.
Aria #4: “At 6:30 every morning”
At 6:30 every morning
For twenty-one years,
I made coffee for us.
Sugar for you,
No sugar for me.
Our sacred ritual.
If you left for work before coffee,
I would call you and say,
“Come back home, Ali.
We haven’t had our coffee today.”
And you always came back.
We sat side by side,
Maybe saying nothing,
Just drinking and slowly waking up together
Before the kids came clamoring down the stairs.
Now miles away,
I tell your photo,
While you fight for liberation,
Our children are growing,
They both have your giant ears.
I read the newspaper out loud to your photo.
The little one screamed.
She thought you had returned.
I told her. “Not yet. Maybe next week,”
I still rise at 6:30,
Pour two cups of coffee.
Maybe next week,
But maybe never.
Come back home, Ali.
We haven’t had our coffee today.
Aria #5: When the women poured out into the streets”
When the women poured out into the streets,
Screeching “Revolution”, “Freedom”,
I said, why so much noise?
Patriots fill our front lines
Shielding your honor,
Preserving your dignity.
Dying for you.
I worked in a brothel underground,
Entertained the troops,
Made a pittance.
My family starved.
Suddenly women could fight for Assad.
Now I cock my rifle
Right next to the men
Who bought me on my back.
I am a “Lioness for National Defense”.
All the medicine I need.
And next year,
If I know one thing, I know this:
The wolves snarling inside
The men who crack the whips
Will always be there,
No matter who is in power.
Do us a favor, honey.
These five arias are excerpted from an opera-in-development, called, FRIDAY AFTER FRIDAY. This chamber opera amplifies the voices of Syrian women living at the epicenter of the ongoing war sparked by weekly protests occurring throughout Syria in the spring of 2011. In the opera, a series of vignettes illuminates a range of political and personal perspectives charting the role of women within the conflict. These arias give us five true stories as an example of what so many women faced in coping with the violence, poverty, and dislocation as a result of the Syrian war.
Kirchoff’s comments on Arias from Friday After Friday are featured in the International Alliance of Women in Music journal (Spring 2022)
Christine Honein, soprano;
Catherine Flinchum, flutes,
Sarah Whitnah, violin;
Richard von Foerster, cello
February 17, 2019
Lamont School of Music
University of Denver, Denver, CO