On May 25, 2020, Memorial Day, I quietly premiered a composition on Facebook Live as part of a virtual recital in memorial to victims of the coronavirus. The premiered piece, entitled Breathe, had been partly inspired by the Lutheran tradition of four-part chorales and because of this, had always felt sacred to me. To play Breathe was to pray so I decided to include it on the concert as a prayer for all who had died of COVID-19.
Later that day, George Floyd was killed at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers. His near-last words as he lay dying with a knee on his neck were “I can’t breathe.” At the time, the coincidence between George Floyd’s cry for help and the title of my piece did not occur to me. In shock, enraged, frustrated, and sad, the last thing on my mind was music. But as the weeks wore on, and the movement for justice swelled, I returned to Breathe, finding myself once again in prayer, only this time, with George Floyd in my heart.
Today, on the one-month anniversary of George Floyd’s death, I wish to offer Breathe not only as a memorial to him, but as a call to action to myself and to my fellow musicians. I have licensed Breathe under a Creative Commons License so that anyone can access, share, and adapt it as they wish—so that through the performance and pedagogy of this piece, we can collectively Say His Name and engage in conversation with our audiences and our students on issues of racial injustice and police violence.
The incomparable Nina Simone once said, “The artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” With Breathe, I invite you to join me in reflecting these times. The sheet music is available for free—and will be indefinitely—at www.philipgraulty.com/breathe. The original version is for guitar, but I intend to add arrangements for other instrumentations very soon.
June 25, 2020