Each Day I Rise, I Know
reflection by D'quan Tyson
There are a few lines of text offered in the final movement of Cycles of my Being that stuck out to me in a very specific way. They read as such:
“Each day I rise, place foot to floor…the weight of consciousness I know.”
“Each morning glow at the window, I have something to praise.”
“Each day I rise, I know I have something to love.”
These ideas suggest that even in the face of despair and regular uncertainty, there are certain occurrences that can be held as norm. Every day I wake up, this will be the same and even if everything else changes-here is something that I can hold onto. It is essential to the human experience to have consistency. We crave it in our relationships – whether of a platonic, familial, or romantic nature – we seek it out in our workspaces and routines; it provides a sort of comfort blanket because these are all, at least to some extent, within our control. When we address the aspects that lean more into unpredictability, things get slightly trickier.
“In order to be self-sufficient, the ability to adapt is key”
Gaining a deeper sense of understanding for the inspiration behind this piece’s text was paramount to me. I find that I need to know where things are borne from to be able to relate in a way that makes the most sense. While the actual text of the piece is a little less directly derived from the work – to fit more eloquently into a melody – the sentiment and content align in a really fascinating way. American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin was created by poet Terrence Hayes during the first 200 days of Donald Trump’s presidency. From what I gather, it is a collection of thought from an individual who, rightfully so, had concerns about the state of the Black collective experience. It is important to acknowledge that while this is one person’s viewpoint, there is tons of material that is relatable to the systems of oppression people of color, but namely Black folk for the purpose of our discussion, face as residents of this nation. Hayes addresses that in order to be self-sufficient, the ability to adapt is key. You may be familiar with the concept of "code-switching," which is defined as the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. In my own words, I would describe it more specifically as a shift in dialect based on situation and circumstance. For example, you probably speak one way around your family, which might be different than the way you talk to your friends. Even still, that can also be entirely unrelated to the way you speak and interact with your teachers/ in your place of employment. All of that is to say, the way we are perceived is often directly correlated with our ability to feel safe in the spaces that we inhabit.
“What are some things in your life that you find joy in?”
There is constant internal conflict between hope and hate in the comparison of these two works. An overarching idea in the text of Hayes’ piece implies that the "assassin" is the individual you are brought up to become and at times, it can be in opposition to the person that we view ourselves as. Something I would love for you all to reflect on is where the potential for change in your being exists – as well as where the struggle in becoming who you hope to be can also remain prevalent. The two will inevitably interconnect, but what parts of yourself can you take with you and are you able to name some of those things that are still a work in progress? If you find yourself unable to at this moment, that’s perfectly acceptable. It is a lot to consider and requires a bit more work than just an initial response. I believe that I’m still answering those questions myself, so take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Perhaps a simpler point of discussion to answer may be: What are some things in your life that you find joy in? How does it inspire you? I ask specifically about "joy" and not "happiness" because the latter is regularly circumstantial. Joy is infinite and does not require us to be in any particular state to experience all that it has to offer. We all need a place to quiet the noise of the world around us at times, and maybe delving into some of those things that make you feel carefree can assist in discovering what that space is for each of us.
“Any and every one…can benefit from this work”
There is undoubtedly some discord when navigating the audience for which Cycles of my Being is intended. We first have to determine whose narratives are being centered. Only then, will we be able to have a clearer understanding of who this work is for. Speaking purely from a contextual perspective, I believe that anyone and everyone – who is old enough to have an understanding of what is happening in modern society – can benefit from the work. However, it has a nuance of subtlety that hits differently for those it directly affects. Here’s what I mean: The entirety of the piece can almost be viewed as a letter from a Black male to America. The lyrics and melodies touch on racism, opportunity (or lack thereof), and experience that is geared toward a certain people. And frankly, if one does not have that lived experience, there can be an appreciation and empathy towards the work and its content, but much less of a deep and earnest understanding. In no way do either of those experiences take away from one another, they are simply divergent and that is okay. Art is meant to be subjective, that is all part of its inherent beauty.
If a theme or title continues to return in a piece, chances are it holds some sort of significance. In its entirety, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin, is 70 poems-5 of which are entitled "but there was never a Black male hysteria." [American Sonnets: See pages 7, 26, 41, 55, and 76]. Hayes never explicitly divulges what his intention there is. Considering the commonalities in these entries, it can be inferred that the Black male is heralded for achievement but never for simply existing. Points of appreciation, accreditation, and – dare I say – fetishization show up but there is never a craze for the Black body because it is so often seen as disposable. That alone is systemically problematic and certainly speaks, in droves, to several sections of both works. I challenge you to think of all the ways in which your being has value, to acknowledge that everything that you are is of the utmost importance, and most indispensably, to never overlook the fact that you matter.
“We are meant to understand that vulnerability is not a weakness, it is a virtue.”
“You have to heal yourself to be truly heroic.” We are conditioned to be pillars of strength even when structures that are meant to support us are crumbling around us. In order to truly and successfully be able to thrive, we are meant to understand that vulnerability is not a weakness, it is a virtue. So often, societal norms discuss our potencies and infirmities in a strict binary where the good and the bad cannot exist simultaneously. I believe that both ideas compose the people that we are, and are meant to be enhancements of one another. Hayes uses this concept to emphasize the point that in activism and allyship, one must be able to search within themselves and see where and when healing is needed. It is not a linear process – referring back to our continuous journey thought – but one that is necessary to achieve real heroism. The term heroism comes with an almost elitist air to it because we always view heroes as having accomplished something grand. In fact, it is solely defined as "great bravery," a commodity that is within each of us, simply waiting to be uncovered.
In doing the research for this work, I needed to realize that certain ideas were things that required some sitting with as well as a bit of deeper reflection. One of those is perhaps the most pertinent quote – at least in my opinion – in the text that Terrence Hayes provides us with: “This country is mine as much as an orphan’s house is his.” It speaks on the sense of, and importance of, ownership. If there is never a feeling of belonging, it becomes nearly impossible to believe that something is actually working for your benefit. While progress has been substantial, there is so much further to go systemically, methodically, and – maybe most importantly – internally. Such sentiments may imply that this nation is meant to house us but never fully allows the transition into becoming a home. Discouraging as that may be, still we choose to persevere, resilient and unyielding.
And so, we enter the final parts of our conversation. Firstly, my sincerest appreciation to all of you for coming along on this journey with me. Both of these works of art deserve an immense amount of diving into, but I am honored to have had the opportunity to start some of that work with you. I think it best to summarize the material covered so that there are distinct take-away points for further exploration and deeper conversation.
- Each day I rise, I have something to hold onto as constant. It does not so much matter what it is, as much as its reliability.
- Code-switching can be a weaponous tool. Use it for good and never underestimate the power of showing up and being the most authentic version of yourself, right now.
- Hope and hate can exist in the same person, sometimes at the same time. On your journey to figuring out who you are becoming, there will be bumps in the road. Embrace them, it makes the ride all the more worthwhile.
- While we may be able to appreciate certain things, we will always have a clearer understanding when we are able to relate them to our lived experiences.
- The Black body is invaluable and absolutely necessary.
- Healing is non-linear but nevertheless, it is essential.
- It is difficult to feel accepted when there are forces working against you. In the face of all of that, continue to rise.
- Lastly, but certainly not least of all-you are incredible. When everything else is going awry, that will always be right.
Thank you, thank you, and thank you again. All my best.
About D'quan Tyson
D’quan Tyson is a freelance performing and teaching artist hailing from East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. In 2016, he graduated with his Bachelors of Music; Vocal Performance degree from Ithaca College and has actively been performing as a section leader in the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia and Old Pine Presbyterian Church. Recently, he has sung with the Brandywine Singers, is a roster singer with the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir, and joined chorus members at Opera Philadelphia in their production of Verdi's Requiem in January of 2020. In December of 2019, D'quan was also hired by the Kimmel Center to expand his teaching artistry into musical theatre. Through Opera Philadelphia’s Sounds of Learning Residency program, D’quan has had the opportunity to go into a myriad of classrooms to engage students in the multi-dimensional art form that is opera! While his background is not necessarily in education, he has found it immensely rewarding getting to work with students and seeing their growth and retention from class to class. He is in his fourth year as a teaching artist and has been gaining new insight with each iteration of students he has the pleasure of working with! He strives to continuously incorporate Andrea Bocelli’s idea that “All this is well worth it because opera offers such deep sensations that they will remain in a heart for a lifetime."
Dedicated funding for the Sounds of Learning Dress Rehearsal Program has been provided by The William Penn Foundation, Hamilton Family Charitable Trust, Eugene Garfield Foundation, Wells Fargo, Universal Health Services, Hirsig Family Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, The McLean Contributionship, and Mr. William A. Loeb