In response to the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, Luther College professor of music and composer in residence Brooke Joyce was compelled to compose a piece titled "He Hung His Head and Died (12 Variations for George Floyd)." The piece will be premiered by the Unison Piano Duo at 12 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, on Iowa Public Radio's Steinway Café. The Unison Piano Duo, comprising Luther professors of music Du Huang and Xiao Hu, will premiere the piece from Luther’s Jenson-Noble Hall of Music.
After Floyd's death, Joyce turned to music to express his outrage and sorrow.
"His death and the circumstances surrounding it shook me to my core," said Joyce. "Not only was the act horrific, but the bystanders felt they were powerless to stop it. I couldn't think about anything else for a few days, and it became clear to me that music was a way for me to process what happened."
The piece was inspired by the African American spiritual "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" and comes to a total length of almost exactly the eight minutes and forty-six seconds Derek Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck.
Joyce's hope is that the piece expresses a narrative fitting with the tumult of 2020— containing moments of deep sorrow and confusion, but suggesting a movement toward hope for the future.