Dr. Moore’s Election Song

No one truly knows who will perform during Open Mic, so when English teacher Dr. Emily Moore came to the stage almost a month ago, it was a welcome surprise. Known by many students for teaching the poetry elective, many probably expected her to recite a poem. But then she pulled out a chair, sat down, took out her ukulele, and began to sing.

Everyone fell silent as her voice swept through the library. The song, her own composition, was about the election, but it was also about Stuyvesant and our everyday experiences, and her hopes for our futures. Chills pulsed through the crowd as people listened to her words, and when she finished only a few minutes later, everyone cheered.

How did you come up with the song?

I wrote the song after the election, because I had my own complicated feelings about the results. And I also thought about my students and what it means to teach at this school that has a very high first, second, and third-generation immigrant population. In the election, where so much of the rhetoric was anti-immigrant, I thought about what I would want to say to various students who might have felt as upset as I did.

What inspired you to create the song, versus a poem?

Poems take a really long time for me to write, and there’s a truism among poets that it takes maybe five or 10 years to write about something. Some poets are amazing at responding immediately, but I’m the kind of poet that takes a really long time to respond, so in 10 years, maybe I’ll be able to write about this election.

And also, for years on and off, I have been in a girls’ country trio. Even though my band is on hiatus right now, I do have a long tradition of writing songs for them. I haven’t written a song in a long time, because I haven’t felt like there was something I particularly wanted to say. But here I thought, there’s something I really want to say. Songwriting for me is a medium that is much faster and more interpersonal, so it just felt like a good match.

What are some other songs you’ve written?

My band [Menage a Twang] started a million years ago. We would write silly songs about love and real estate. We had songs with titles like “The Key to Your Apartment is the Key to My Heart.” And the idea was to write country songs but about young life in New York. I wrote a song maybe eight or 10 years ago called “I’ve Got the Answer. It’s Called a Pantsuit.” Hillary was not running, even the first time, but in a way it ended up being a song that I thought about a lot during the election because of the idea of Hillary as being part of this pantsuit army of motivated women. We’ve written lots of different kinds of songs over the years, most of them really silly, but some involving some deeper themes like women’s leadership or power.

Do you mind going a bit deeper about your feelings on the election?

The song that I wrote really encapsulates my feelings about the election, my feelings about the work there is to do after the election, and the different groups that I feel are impacted by the election, like young women or recent immigrants.

In some ways my own personal feelings about the election results are actually far more depressing and broken-hearted than the song suggests, but when I was writing this song I thought really deeply about what would my message be to the next political generation, which I do feel much more positively about. As I said to my classes the day after the election, you guys, with all of your beliefs, are really the generation that gives me faith, politically. So I would much rather have had you guys vote.

Can you elaborate on the writing process?

I write songs in my head when I’m doing things like walking or taking the subway. If I’m working on a song, I’ll write it in the back of my mind, and sometimes I’ll sing to myself as I’m walking and picking up my daughter from daycare.

After the election, I didn’t sleep very well, because I was really upset, so I would lie awake and think about it a little bit. But if I’m writing a song that I feel really joyful about, I tend to do it in those funny moments when you’re walking down Chambers Street to school. Sometimes I’ll think and the lyrics and the music come together in my mind, and I’ll record a little bit on my iPhone, and it slowly comes together. And then at some point I’ll sit down and I’ll put chords to it with my ukulele or my guitar.

I had a wonderful mentor years ago when I was in high school. I’d never thought of myself as musical, but she was a music teacher, and she and I used to work at a camp together. Her philosophy was anyone can write a song about anything, and she was right. She gave me so much courage. It’s very empowering. I was amazed by how simple it is to write a song. You don’t have to be an amazing musician, you just have to have an idea you want to express, and you have to enjoy music, and lo and behold, you can write a song.

What was it like performing it?

Well, as anyone who’s performed knows, you make many more mistakes in performance than you do when you’re rehearsing privately. So in the actual Open Mic, I made lots of mistakes on the ukulele. In a perfect world, I would have performed it many times and been really comfortable. But this is the first time I have played it for anyone, and I care a lot about the students at Stuyvesant. They were such lovely audience members, and I saw that their faces were so thoughtful and attentive, so I did feel a special feeling looking out at the Stuyvesant student body.

Stuyvesant is an incredibly forgiving audience, and they really care about the spirit of what you’re trying to do as opposed to the flawless execution, so I was relieved by how happy and forgiving the audience was.

Do you have a favorite line from your song?

I think it keeps changing. I will say one of the lines in the chorus is about commuting, wearing the hijab. That for me has become a metaphor, because Muslims were so targeted by Trump’s rhetoric, and because that’s a student population that is so fundamental to Stuyvesant High School. That tradition of wearing the hijab is so visible. It’s this profound metaphor for what it means to go on with your traditions in your own life. I decided to repeat it in the chorus, because to me, that image connotes this sort of bravery that I really believe in.

What do you hope students will take away from your song?

There are students at Stuyvesant who are thrilled with the results of the election, so that’s wonderful for them, and I’m glad. I wrote this song to make myself feel a little bit better, and I also thought a lot about students who might be saddened and disheartened by the results of the election or feel less welcome somehow in their lives in America. I wanted to think about some things that I had to say to them. My hope was to make students who felt like me feel a little bit better and to perhaps make myself feel better.

2016 Post Election Open Mic Song

In eighth grade you aced the SHSAT
The pride and joy of Flushing, Queens
Now after the election of 2016
It’s time to stand up for what we believe

You’re immigrant students with high GPAs
Commuting in hijab on the MTA
Attending Chinese school every Saturday
And you’re going to lead this country someday

Young women, this is a time of change
Let’s learn from Hillary how to get back up again
Run for office and keep on fighting
The feminist movement is standing beside you

You’re immigrant students with high GPAs
Commuting in hijab on the MTA
Reading Toni Morrison on the 7 train
And you’re going to lead this country someday

I grew up gay in the 1980s
Harassed and rejected by my own home nation
Now I’m a legally married lady
Justice can take an extra generation

You’re immigrant students with high GPAs
Commuting in hijab on the MTA
Speaking Korean with your friend who’s gay
And you’re going to lead this country someday

So stand by each other, get your education
Condemn hate speech and threats of deportation
New York was built on immigration
Your city needs you at graduation

You’re immigrant students with high GPAs
Commuting in hijab on the MTA
Multiracial and multifaith
And you’re going to lead this country someday          
…I want you to lead my country one day.

 

Listen to Dr. Moore’s song here.

 

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