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Jamie Raskin’s Life Is Now Captured in a Classical Music Piece

The oratorio, based on his memoir, will premiere in Takoma Park

A previous event put on by Washington Musica Viva. Photograph courtesy of Carl Banner.

Have you ever wished you could learn about Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin’s life—through song? A local poet, a composer, and a group of musicians have teamed up to create “The Jamie Raskin Oratorio,” which adapts Raskin’s memoir as poetry set to music.

Chamber music nonprofit Washington Musica Viva, based in Takoma Park, is behind the project, which debuts September 7 at the Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring. The group hosts musical events in intimate settings like homes and churches. One concert in July—featuring poetry performed over Beethoven and Dvořák—will offer homemade bourekas to an audience capped at 35.

Poet Anne Becker wrote the words for the Raskin composition, working for nine months on the project. Raskin, who himself lives in Takoma Park, offered rich source material: A stretch of several agonizing weeks in his life during which he lost his son, witnessed the Jan. 6 insurrection, and led the resulting Trump impeachment effort form the narrative structure of both his memoir and the oratorio. If Raskin’s story had just been about “political maneuvering, I wouldn’t have been so drawn to the story,” Becker says. “But the way the family is connected to it really got me interested.”

To write the poems, Becker dug through as much material as she could find about Raskin, from his book to speeches to op-eds. Many of the poems use Raskin’s own words, which are woven together with Becker’s poetic spin. The poems are divided into days where significant events occurred, with the facts of what happened communicated mostly through his reactions.

Washington Musica Viva composer-in-residence Noam Faingold wrote the accompanying music for piano and trumpet, instruments he chose because they can be anything from “iconic triumphal characters to more somber and reflective,” he says. “Together, they can do just about anything to create impressions of anxiety and release and access any of the emotions that are present in the piece.”

So will Raskin attend the event? It’s possible: Becker says she communicated with Raskin’s office to get permission to draw so much from his words, and after giving their approval, they asked for the date of the show.

Josie Reich
Editorial Fellow