Our Names (2010)

for flute (C and G alto), clarinet (Bb and Bass), percussion, violin, cello, piano, and narrator, ca. 14’

The Text of Our Names was written by Mu, Langeng, a blind poet who is a member of the Paiwan Indigenous tribe in Taiwan. In 2010, I lived in Taiwan as a Fulbright scholar to study its musical and cultural history. As I was doing research, I ran across this poem and it immediately spoke to me. The Indigenous peoples in Taiwan have a plight similar to that of the tribes of American Indians in the United States, and this poem brings awareness to the universal injustice suffered by Indigenous peoples around the world. The text was originally written in Braille, published in Mandarin Chinese, and then, with the poet’s permission, translated into English for use in this composition. Finally, I included a few short sentences and names in Paiwanese to evoke the indigenous mood of the poetry.


Musically, there are two aspects of the music in relation to the poem that reflect my studies. First, the main melody of the piece is inspired by music from the Paiwan tribe (the tribe to which the poet belongs) for double-piped nose flute. The Paiwan is one of only two tribes in the world that use a bamboo double-pipe nose flute. Performers of this rare instrument are in danger of extinction as the older generation dies away. Furthermore, in order to accurately represent modern indigenous culture, in which Christianity currently occupies a more important place than traditional mythologies, I highlight the text “church bell” in the piece by using the piano and chimes throughout the work. Today, more than 70% of Aboriginals identify themselves as Christian. Indeed, the indigenous people of Taiwan encountered Dutch Christian missionaries in the early 17th century, before the arrival of the Han people from China.

Our Names was commissioned and premiered by Network for New Music, with funding made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund. The premiere performance was supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Music Project. 

Our Names is dedicated to Mu, Nan Neng.

Score available from Trigon Music Press

Recording available at New World Records, iTunes, and Amazon