Our America will feature two world premieres by contemporary composers Randall Eng (left) and Daniel Rein (right), written for the MasterVoices chorus. We asked them a few questions so you could get to know them better!
Q1: What do you consider your heritage to be?
Randall Eng: My dad’s father came over from China when he was only 15. Eventually he moved to Norfolk, Virginia to open a restaurant – one of the few professions open to Chinese people at that time. My mom’s father came over from Hong Kong – after Communist forces took over mainland China he decided it was safer to get his family out. My mom was just 9 and the five kids had to fly alone – they still remember the Pan Am stewardesses and how kind they were to these little kids making their way to America! When they arrived in NYC they moved directly to Chinatown.
Daniel Rein: I was born in Israel. My father’s parents immigrated from Hungary to Palestine (with a two-year stop in Italy). They were refugees, Holocaust survivors, and only in their 20s. Their siblings moved to America, but the Zionist-socialist spirit appealed to their idealism over the promise of prosperity. My mother’s mother sailed to Palestine from Cologne, Germany, at 18, with a Zionist youth group. She met my mother’s father, who came from Poland, in the kibbutz.
Q2: What do you do to remind yourself of home or heritage?
Eng: I grew up in Staten Island in the 1970s, when there were very few Chinese-Americans around. Our household was an odd mix – a dollop of Chinese culture and a lot of completely mainstream white American culture. The food my mom would make was some crazy mix of the two that she would just make up. The dish that I have the most nostalgia for is this thing she used to do with ground beef, peas, and onions over rice that for some reason my sisters and I dubbed “Charlie”. It’s a totally inauthentic mish-mosh of two separate cuisines, but it captures the story of what it was like to grow up 2nd/3rd-generation Chinese-American in Staten Island, and I love it.
Rein: I have an old Hebrew poetry book by the poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. Not only have I had it for years, but It’s fallen apart into two halves, which reminds me of my parents and our home in Rechavia, Jerusalem.
Q3: What inspired the piece you created?
Eng: The piece “Remain” is a setting of a set of instructions/advice that the Museum of the Chinese in America created for recent immigrants about what to do if approached by Immigrations and Custom Enforcement… The basic idea is to set the text in a way that gives strength to immigrants and urges all of us to stand up for their rights in the face of what is happening in this Administration. It’s actually been liberating to be able to write this piece these past few weeks, as I follow what is happening in the news.
Rein: Growing up in Jerusalem, from an early age I absorbed the unique Israeli tradition of setting poems to music in the popular music context. My composition consists of three contrasting poems by e.e. cummings, in a dialogue between the two soloists and the choir. The piece is an opportunity for me to connect with the heritage of my new home by bringing American language to musical life, with the spirit and tradition I absorbed back in Jerusalem.