Brittany J. Green’s "Against/Sharp" honors Black lives and voices

Jerry Hou, associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and Duke graduate composer Brittany Green
Jerry Hou, associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, and Duke graduate composer Brittany Green

Brittany J. Green has seen many of her works performed, but when Against/Sharp, for narrator and chamber orchestra premieres in January 2022, it will be a new experience for the composer in several ways. Rather than a live performance, Against/Sharp, recorded by the Atlanta Symphony in October 2021, will be released online in a multimedia, pre-produced concert of works engaging issues of civil rights and social justice for the Concerts for Young People series. Green herself serves as the narrator of the piece, a role she never anticipated.

“I wrote Against/Sharp in Fall 2020 for Professor Yun Emily Wang’s ‘Music and Intersectionality’ seminar,” Green, a composer in Duke Music’s Ph.D. program, said. “During the class, I had the opportunity to engage Black feminist theory and the disruption of social structures, and I wanted to try to explore that in a musical way. In Against/Sharp, I create structures and disrupt them sonically. The piece disintegrates into a wash of sound at the end.”

“The texts I employ talk about what it means to exist in a system. I made a demo using my own voice and assumed someone else would narrate the final recording, but then I realized it was important for my voice as a Black woman to be heard among the Western classical instruments.” The Atlanta Symphony agreed, and Green narrates the final cut.

Brittany Green narrating Against Sharp with Atlanta Symphony
Brittany Green narrating Against/Sharp with the Atlanta Symphony. Photo by Sarah Pershke Grant.

Green also wanted to honor the lives of those who have lost their voices. “The piece is approximately 4 minutes and 8 seconds long, representing the 48 Black women killed by police brutality from 2015-2020. I included one second of silence for each trans life lost to police brutality in 2020. Against/Sharp only lasts 4 minutes, but there are 32 seconds of silence. Throughout the work, I use accented silences punctuated by sound to explore the idea of breath and what it means to lose your breath.”

"Brittany Green's Against/Sharp, for narrator and chamber orchestra, exhibits nearly relentless rhythmic energy, energy fortified by silences," says John Supko, associate professor of Music. “This remarkable work from a striking new voice in American music uses narration in the same way, giving voice to righteous anger, anger fortified by hope. I find the conceptual framework of Against/Sharp heartbreaking, incisive, and mysterious."

Green is the 2021-2022 Schwartz Artist in Residence at Emory University, chosen as the first recipient of a three-year initiative to highlight the work of BIPOC composers. In addition to having Against/Sharp recorded by the Atlanta Symphony, she is composing a 10-minute piece in collaboration with the Emory University Orchestra that will premiere on April 22, 2022.