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LA composer explores social injustice and morality in musical debut

Fahad Siadat rehearsing with NIU groups as part of his residency
Fahad Siadat rehearsing with NIU groups as part of his residency

A concert piece this weekend will explore ethics and social justice through the eyes of a biblical narrative. Cor Cantiamo Director Eric Johnson founded the group in 2009. He says his intent from the beginning was to use the group to explore the intersection of choral music and modern life.

“One of the major missions was to work with contemporary composers, [to] engage in the dialogue of what choral music is now, how does it interact with society, how does it interact with our culture, and be a platform and a lab to grow and experiment,” Johnson said.

The group has commissioned several original pieces, and on Sunday will debut its latest, from California-based composer Fahad Siadat. The work is entitled “Noah/Ham: Fathers of the Year” and is based on a poem of the same name by Douglas Kearney. Siadat says it explores the biblical story of Noah when he curses his son’s son after being found intoxicated.

“One of the interpretations of what that curse is, is that he cursed him with dark skin, he cursed him to be in bondage, for him to be a servant. And people have interpreted that as ‘oh, that’s the justification for why we have enslaved Black people over the years.’”

Siadat uses his music to dig into that history of social injustice and morality. It’s an emotional place not all composers are willing to go.

“I was interested in a very different and large engulfing emotion, which was shame. There’s this sort of, like, oh, the shame of my alcoholic father, right, which is like a super contemporary theme, these really big emotions that aren’t often explored in musical setting.”

Cor Cantiamo performs “Noah/Ham: Fathers of the Year” as part of their concert this Sunday, 3pm at NIU’s Boutell Memorial Concert Hall. WNIJ's sister station WNIU will also feature excerpts from that performance on an upcomingEncore broadcast.

David Tallacksen has been listening to radio since his early years when he'd tune in to crackly late-night AM talk shows on his GE radio alarm clock long after he'd gone to bed and should have been sleeping. He became a public radio listener in high school when he discovered Car Talk and NPR's newsmagazines on WNIJ, and later went on to work at WNIU while a student at NIU.