Look and Listen #2: The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson

If you haven’t heard Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, prepare yourself for this stirring work. This is a scoring for full orchestra; the original was for a small chamber ensemble with men’s choir. That version, equally profound, is found here, along with a rendition of Glory by Common and John Legend. I chose this one because of the larger forces and because I don’t want to hear anything else after listening to Seven Last Words. 

The piece is based, in part, on another famous choral work, The Seven Last Words of Christ by Théodore Dubois, which dramatizes the death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of the authorities. Drawing parallels between Christ and young black men is a powerful metaphor, but it isn’t necessary to see it to feel the intense resonance of Thompson’s setting of the last words of seven black men killed by police. I appreciate watching and hearing the young men of the University of Michigan Glee Club as they grapple with this extremely difficult text and put themselves in the position of those who were killed.

This performance is by the University of Michigan Glee Club with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Rogers.


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