Coming home gives us a chance to take another look at people and places we once saw through different eyes.
Poet Maya Angelou was molested as a child. After she told a relative what had happened, the perpetrator was beaten to death. Blaming herself for the man’s death, Angelou refused to speak for several years. Yet this woman, who chose a prolonged silence, become one of our greatest writers, reclaiming her voice and in a sense her soul. To date she has authored seven autobiographies.
- Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).
- Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name (1974).
- Maya Angelou, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas (1976).
- Maya Angelou, The Heart of a Woman (1981).
- Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986).
- Maya Angelou, A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002).
- Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom (Random House, 2013).
Works by other authors:
- Heather Andrea Williams, Help Me To Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (The University of North Carolina Press, 2012): a “revelation of the bonds forged by the collective grief and resilient love of a people finding themselves.”
- Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Small Fry: A Memoir (Grove Press , 2018): Steve Jobs’ daughter forgives him for loutish behavior and mistreatment.
- Noé Álvarez, Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land (Catapult, 2020): “By the run’s end, he is eager to go home, to see his parents, to rest and restart his life. The run, it seems, has absolved him of his need to flee.”
- Edward Hoagland, Sex and the River Styx (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011): “Hoagland . . . describes growing up in Connecticut and the ‘concentrated happiness of listening by a lake to the lap and hiss of rustling water’”.
- Morgan Jerkins, Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots (Harper/HarperCollins, 2020): “Morgan Jerkins Heads Down South in Search of Her Black Identity”.
- Alex Halberstadt, Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning (Random House, 2020): “Writing a Family Memoir When Your Grandfather Was Stalin’s Bodyguard”.
- Ashley C. Ford, Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir (Flatiron, 2021): “ Ford powerfully captures the complicated mix of meanness, frustration and obsessive mothering familiar to so many Black daughters”.
- Kiese Laymon, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays (Scribner, 2020): “Kiese Laymon Revisits Some Early Essays, and Reclaims His Voice”.
- Imani Perry, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation (Ecco Press, 2022): “. . . the South is America, and its history and influence cannot be dismissed as an embarrassing relative at the nation’s holiday dinner table.” (National Book Award Prize winner, 2022)
- Casey Parks, Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery (Knopf, 2022): “. . . her mother kept on crying. That is, until her mother, Parks’s grandmother, barged into the bathroom where this tearful exchange was taking place and admonished her daughter: 'Some people eat hot dogs, and some people eat fish.' The message was: Get over it.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Fighter: two concertration camp survivors return to Europe together
- Norman Rockwell, Thanksgiving: Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes (1945)
- Giorgio de Chirico, Happiness of Returning (1915)
- Frédéric Bazille, Family Reunion (1867)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- John Denver, Back Home Again
- Nawang Khechog, A Sad Return to My Birthplace
- Yungchen Lhamo, “Coming Home”
- Franz Schubert (composer), Rückweg (The Way Back), D. 476 (1816) (lyrics)
Film and Stage
- The Celebration, a deliberately ironic title for this family gathering
- The Secret of Roan Inish: on connecting with family through its folklore
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Antonin Dvořák, Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, B. 163 (1889): “After the crisis of the mid-1880s, represented above all by the sombre Seventh Symphony and the Piano Trio in F minor, the period during which Dvorak produced his Eighth Symphony was now a time of equilibrium, when the composer sought the answers to fundamental issues of human existence. The work was written during the summer and early autumn of 1889, mainly at his summer residence in Vysoka. This environment, in which Dvorak was most at ease, seemed to be reflected in the overall atmosphere of his new symphony. Here he created a work filled with the joys of life and his admiration for natural beauty and, once again, the piece reveals the composer’s fondness for Czech and Slavonic folk music.” The central idea, expressed as “bucolic euphoria”, seems to be that the composer has returned home spiritually. Top performances are conducted by Talich in 1935, Walter in 1948; Doráti in 1959, Munch in 1961, Kertész in 1963, Karajan in 1965; Kubelik in 1966, Rowicki in 1969, Ančerl in 1970, Abbado in 1995, Harnoncourt in 1998, Colin Davis in 1999 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4), and Mackerras in 2009 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4).
You return home after a long absence. Your family and friends cannot fully understand what you have learned, and you can no longer see them in quite the same way as before. Try as you might, the details of your time away cannot be fully conveyed. Only you, who have known your experiences firsthand, can see them in all their depth. So it is with Arthur Schoonderwoerd’s recordings of Beethoven’s piano concerti. He plays on a fortepiano of Beethoven’s time, accompanied by a small orchestra that sounds much like a chamber ensemble. Since Beethoven composed these works, great performers and conductors have brought new techniques to their performance, adding richness and detail but surely changing the music from what Beethoven’s audiences heard. Perhaps Beethoven would not have liked this evolution, or perhaps he would have been ecstatic that his music could now more fully express what he had intended. I would not wish to be limited to Schoonderwoerd-like performances of these works, any more than I would wish to return to the little farmhouse where I grew up. Still, the return to roots Schoonderwoerd has provided to us adds a dimension to the understanding and appreciation of these works, and as in life the return to our evolved life is the more meaningful for it.
- Piano Concerto No. 1: 1. Allegro con brio; 2. Largo; 3. Rondo - Allegro.
- Piano Concerto No. 2: 1. Allegro con brio; 2. Adagio; 3. Rondo - Allegro molto.
- Piano Concerti 3 and “6”
- Piano Concerto No. 4: 1. Allegro moderato; 2. Andante con moto; 3. Rondo - Vivace.
- Piano Concerto No. 5: 1. Allegro; 2. Adagio un poco moto; 3. Rondo - Allegro, ma non troppo.
Gordon Jacob’s chamber music with recorder displays an instrument that has fallen out of favor returning in chamber ensemble in the 20th century; nothing fits as it did long ago.
- Suite for recorder and string quartet (1957)
- Sonatina for treble recorder and harpsichord (1985)
- Sonata for recorder and piano (1967)
- A Consort of Recorders (1972)
- Variations for treble recorder and piano (1962)
- Trifles, for treble recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord (1971)
- Górecki, Szeroka Woda (Broad Waters), Op. 39: the title piece is especially exquisite.
- James Willey, String Quartet No. 8: the quartet employs folk themes throughout. This work concludes with as resolved a conclusion as can be found in modern chamber music (1. Poland; 2. China).
- Of his Symphony No. 5, Africa: A Tone Poem, composer Hayden Wayne writes: “. . . Jazz subsequently begot Rhythm and Blues which begot Rock ‘n’ Roll. Theser folk idioms are so deeply entrenched in my psyche, that I was moved to write my symphonic trilogy: #2 REGGAE, #3 HEAVY METAL and #4 FUNK. This led me finally to my roots . . . AFRICA.”
- Delius, Brigg Fair (1907)
- Holmboe, Viola Concerto, M357, Op. 189 (1992): we hear the composer returning to his youthful home in the Balkans
- Guarnieri, Piano Concerto No. 6 (1987): the composer returns to previous styles of composition in this “personal summation, a tribute to his own creative life” (James Melo, from the notes to this album).
- Foss, Symphony No. 4, "Window to the Past" (1995)
- Frith, String Quartet No. 1, “Lelekovice” (Lelekovice is a Czechoslovakian municipality)
- Andy Akiho, LIgNEouS – suite for marimba and string quartet (2016) (approx. 35-36’). Akiho explains: “'LIgNEouS' means, 'made, consisting of, or resembling wood.' This title was chosen because the marimba, violin, viola, and cello are all primarily made of wood. Also, the marimbist is often required to play with dowel rod bundles (rutes) and mallet shafts, without typical yarn mallet heads, in order to enhance the extremely wooden sounds and to articulate the highest overtones of the marimba. I also wanted to use industrial timbres in addition to the melodic marimba bars, accomplished through glissandos and strikes to the metallic resonators.” The work explores how the different applications of wood interact.
- Klebanov, String Quartet No. 4
- Will Ackerman, “Returning”: a gorgeous compilation disc of music for solo guitar, broadly classified as New Age, though it avoids most of the formulaic conventions of that genre.
- Jakob Bro, “Returnings”
- Stephan Crump & Rosetta Trio, “Reclamation”
- William Goldstein, “A Long Way Home” soundtrack
- Carn Davidson 9, “The History of Us”: “Comprising of two suites of music (one by Carn and one by Davidson), this album is a meditation on family, loss and migration.”
- Maya Youssef, “Finding Home”, “. . . a journey through memories and the essence of home both within and without . . .”
- Return Trip, “Spanish Roots”: Spanish folk and flamenco music
- Geoff Eales Trio, “The Homecoming” (2006)
- Pee Wee Russell & Coleman Hawkins, “Reunion”
- Matthew Shipp, “Piano Vortex” (2007) (53’): “Shipp revisits his roots on Piano Vortex by eschewing electronics and post-production wizardry in favor of the traditional acoustic piano trio format.”
I won the prize essay at school
Here in the village,
And published a novel before I was twenty-five.
I went to the city for themes and to enrich my art;
There married the banker’s daughter,
And later became president of the bank—
Always looking forward to some leisure
To write an epic novel of the war.
Meanwhile friend of the great, and lover of letters,
And host to Matthew Arnold and to Emerson.
An after dinner speaker, writing essays
For local clubs. At last brought here—
My boyhood home, you know—
Not even a little tablet in Chicago
To keep my name alive.
How great it is to write the single line:
“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll!”
[Edgar Lee Masters, “John Horace Burleson”]
Books of poetry:
- Maya Angelou, The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House, 1994).
From the dark side:
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Henry Layton”
Novels and stories:
- Kate Walbert, His Favorites: A Novel (Scribner, 2018): “. . . ‘His Favorites’ isn’t a simple narrative of trauma and survival, but something more challenging, and potentially more valuable — a reckoning not just with the reality of abuse, but with the pernicious ways it can shape and inform everything, even the stories you tell yourself.”
- Leif Enger, Virgil Wander: A Novel (Grove Atlantic, 2018) “What a wondrous miracle, to wake up, memory muddled, slightly unmoored, with just the task of relearning yourself, your friends, your hometown nestled along the ruggedly beautiful shores of Lake Superior.”
- Luis Alberto Urrea, The House of Broken Angels: A Novel (Little, Brown & Company, 2018): “ . . . there is much to appreciate in Urrea’s highly entertaining story of Big Angel, the de La Cruz family’s patriarch, who buries his mother even as he himself is dying and as his family gathers to celebrate his 70th, and last, birthday.”
- Beck Dorey-Stein, Rock the Boat: A Novel (The Dial Press, 2021): “A Humbled Millennial Goes Home to New Jersey to Find Herself”.
- Safia Elhillo, Home Is Not a Country (Make Me a World, 2021) “felt like a love letter to anyone who has ever been an outsider, or searched to understand their history, no matter where they come from.”
- Violaine Huisman, The Book of Mother: A Novel (Scribner, 2021): “Violaine Huisman’s mission is to return her mother to earth, 'become the narrator of her story in order to give her back her humanity.' To do so is to confront the fog of legend that obscured her mother in life and plagues the daughter still, long after her mother’s death.”
- Sasa Stanisic, Where You Come From: A Novel (Tin House Books, 2021): “. . . a wry, inventive and ultimately devastating attempt to recover a personal history that war has put forever out of reach”.
- Vigdis Hjorth, Is Mother Dead? A Novel (Verso Fiction, 2022), “features a middle-aged painter desperate to reconcile with the parent from whom she has long been estranged.”
- Jennifer Maritza McCauley, When Trying to Return Home: Stories (Counterpoint, 2023): “Drawing on her own Puerto Rican and Black American identity, McCauley introduces a diverse cast of characters who collectively struggle with a desperate need to belong, both to the world around them and to one another.”