Songs of My Grandmother (2021)

When I think of the end of time, I think about my 97 year-old grandmother.

Every time I go visit her, and when it is time again to say goodbye

she gets tears in her eyes as if she knows the end is near for her,

and this will be the last time we see each other.  

 

My grandmother is a mystery to me in many ways:

a strong woman who crossed the border by foot from North Korea

and never saw her family again since then,

an illiterate woman who told me a doctorate degree is not for a lady,

but the same woman who was proud of me when I earned one,  

a woman who lives alone who took care of my grandfather until the day he died,

a woman who made my existence possible despite our rather distant relationship.  

 

Though she is illiterate, she learned to read a bible.

I'm not religious, but I know that believing in God was the only way for her  

to get through everything she did.

 

The first movement is a worksong as she spent most of her childhood

helping out her family's farm across the mountain in North Korea.

The celebratory theme from the piano signals her marriage with my grandfather.  

 

In the second movement, I write about her transition into the new life  

with my grandfather who lived by the East Sea.  

Soon after she got married, my grandfather, a court clerk at that time, told everyone

that he was sick and he needed to take time off.  

One day he crossed the border to never come back.

Later she found out he had left for good, and so she travelled by foot to the South  

to find my grandfather with my uncle on her back.  

 

The third movement is about her Christianity.  

She suffered from chronic gastroenteritis ever since she moved to the South.

My grandfather didn't know how to help her so he bought a bible and told her to go to a church.

She was miraculously cured, and now she is the most devout Christian that I know.

She told me that especially during the pandemic, she wasn't able to talk to anyone in person.

But she's been talking to God everyday, asking why she isn't in heaven already with the others  

and if God loves her.  

 

This piece was wirrten in honor of my grandmother Gaesoon Lee, who turned 98 years old in the January of 2022.  

 

Songs of My Grandmother was commissioned and premiered by CityMusic Cleveland in February 2022,

programmed together with Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time.