Songs of My Grandmother
Instrumentation | violin, clarinet, cello, and piano
Year | 2021
Duration | 15'
Premiere | commissioned by CityMusic Cleveland and premiered on February 27, 2022 by Miho Hashizume, Daniel Gilbert, Keith Robinson, and Donna Lee at the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus
Note | 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 Hamhung, 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 written in honor of my grandmother Gaesoon Lee, who turned 98 years old in the January of 2022.