WANTING MEMORIES was part of a suite of songs commissioned for a dance theater piece called CROSSINGS. Other songs included were NO MIRRORS IN MY NANA'S HOUSE and WHEN I DIE which have been recorded by Sweet Honey and LOST IN BLUE and THE OVERTURE which have not been recorded.
I did dedicate the WANTING to my father when we recorded it but it was written while both my parents were still alive.
What was special though was that I am an only child and when my father died and then my mother, and I prepared to sell the house I grew up in, I found bags of photos, letters and other memorabilia - the kind of things especially an only child hopes for... You can see a good deal of these photos and samples of the letters on my website: http://www.barnwellarchives.com
So in a sense, the song was an unconscious wish or prayer that actually came true.
Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, a native New Yorker now living in Washington, DC, is the only child and perfect blend of her mother, a registered nurse and her father, a classical violinist. Dr. Barnwell studied violin for 15 years beginning at age 2 ½, and majored in music through high school. With this background, she went on to earn the Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Speech Pathology (SUNY, Geneseo, 1967, 1968), Doctor of Philosophy in Speech Pathology (University of Pittsburgh, 1975), and the Master of Science in Public Health (Howard University, 1981). In 1998, Dr. Barnwell was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by her alma mater, SUNY Geneseo. She recently received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL (2009) and the Virginia Theological Seminary (2011); and in 2012, all members of Sweet Honey In the Rock, were awarded the Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Chicago Theological Seminary (2012).
Dr. Barnwell joined Sweet Honey In The Rock® in 1979 and her training as a Sign Language Interpreter, led her to facilitate the group’s tradition of including a Sign Language Interpreter in the ensemble. After 34 years Barnwell retired from Sweet Honey In The Rock to pursue her other interests.
Dr. Barnwell appears as a vocalist and/or instrumentalist on more than thirty recordings with Sweet Honey In The Rock as well as other artists. She has, for the past thirty years spent much of her time off stage working as a master teacher and choral clinician in African American cultural performance. Her workshop “Building a Vocal Community®: Singing in the African American Tradition” has during the past twenty-eight years, been conducted on three continents, making her work in the field a significant source of inspiration for both singers and non-singers, a model of pedagogy for educators, and cultural activists and historians.
Dr. Barnwell has been a commissioned composer on numerous choral, film, video, dance and theatrical projects including Sesame Street, Dance Alloy of Pittsburgh, David Rousseve’s Reality Dance Company, The New Spirituals Project, GALA Festival Choruses, MUSE: Cincinnati’s Women’s Chorus, The Steel Festival: Art of an Industry (Bethlehem, PA, The King’s Singers in England. In 1996, she was awarded the Bessie Award for her score Safe House: Still Looking, commissioned by Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. The year 2001 saw the premiere of the work Suite Death, a setting of four poems by Langston Hughes for baritone, choir and orchestra, commissioned by the Plymouth Music Series in Minneapolis, MN. In Feb. 2003, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, DC premiered Truth Pressed to Earth Shall Rise, a choral work, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most recently, she was commissioned by the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra and Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT to compose a musical setting for Marilyn Nelson’s epic poem Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. This cantata premiered in Waterbury on May 9, 2009 and there have been three performances since. In 2011 Barnwell curated the year long FORTUNE’S BONES PROJECT® for the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland which featured public discussions and two performances of the cantata. Several other communities are now exploring how they might present the Project.
Barnwell’s music, published by Barnwell’s Notes, Inc. and distributed by The Musical Source, Washington, DC has been performed and recorded by numerous choral ensembles and individual artists as well as Sweet Honey In The Rock.
Four axioms have proven significant in Barnwell’s life:
To whom much is given, much is required.
As one door closes, another door opens.