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Bulosan: On American Democracy

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Andres R. Luz

Andres R. Luz

Subtitle: Grand Passacaglia for Narrator and Wind Symphony, Op. 17a

General Info

Year: 2021
Duration: c. 26:00
Difficulty: V+ (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Post-Classical Music, through Murphy Music Press
Cost: Score and Parts - $400.00 | Score Only - $75.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II*
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III*
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
C Trumpet I-II-III*
Horn in F I-II-III-IV*
Trombone I-II*
Bass Trombone
Percussion I-II-III, including:

  • Bongos (2)
  • Brake Drum
  • Chimes
  • Crotales
  • Glockenspiel
  • Lion's roar
  • Marimba
  • Shakers
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbals (2: small and medium)
  • Tam-tam
  • Tom-toms (3: small, medium, and large)
  • Vibraphone
  • Wood Blocks (5)
  • Xylophone


*Doubling recommended


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Carlos Sampayan Bulosan (November 24, 1913 – September 11, 1956) was an English-language Filipino novelist and poet who immigrated to America on July 1, 1930. He never returned to the Philippines and he spent most of his life in the United States. His best-known work today is the semi-autobiographical America Is in the Heart, but he first gained fame for his 1943 essay, "Freedom from Want."

- Program Note from Wikipedia

My D.M.A. dissertation project is a musical composition for wind ensemble and narrator entitled Bulosan: On American Democracy.  Consistent with my interest in Filipino and Filipino-American sources, the work draws inspiration from selected excerpts from two important literary opuses written by the immigrant labor union organizer and writer, Carlos Bulosan (1913-1956), who was active in California and Washington State in the 1930s and 40s. In both his semi-autobiographical novel, America is in the Heart (1946), and the essay, “Freedom from Want” (1943), commissioned by the Saturday Evening Post to accompany Norman Rockwell’s painting of the same name, Bulosan wrote on themes about the preservation of American democracy at a time when it was under threat by the rise of Fascism in Western Europe and Authoritarian Communism in the Soviet Union.  As the U.S. had emerged from the years of the Great Depression and entered the Second World War on two fronts, Bulosan stressed that in order for democracy to survive at home, the nation must seek to preserve a thriving, independent, and well-educated populace situated in a culture that values the natural rights of individuals as well as intellectual and artistic freedoms. Important, too, was the condition that working citizens must be protected from special moneyed interests that sought to accumulate and wield power from the highest public offices of the land.  Despite numerous instances of rampant racism, xenophobia, class discrimination, and workplace-related harassment and violence, Bulosan steadfastly believed in the American values of liberty, opportunity, and excellence even in the face of abject poverty, poor working conditions, and societal marginalization which he and his colleagues had experienced living in the United States. Despite the current body of literature and scholarship focused on the writer’s life and contributions, as well as the awareness and inclusion of America is in the Heart in numerous offerings of Asian American Studies courses in universities across the country, Bulosan’s reputation largely remains unknown to most. Therefore, one of the main drivers of this project is to provoke interest in and pay homage to the legacy of Carlos Bulosan’s ideas at a time when the principles of American democracy and personal liberty for all are being challenged in our time.

The composition Bulosan: On American Democracy is fashioned after the ancient Baroque passacaglia form of continuous variations which unfold in counterpoint against a fixed bass melody that recurs throughout.  This is a deliberate compositional choice because of the form’s capacity to express an evolving musical argument that steadily gains momentum with repeated iterations of the fixed subject, much like the way a contemplation of Bulosan’s profound message would increasingly resonate and evolve with thoughtful consideration in one’s mind over time.  When one considers the ability of music to illustrate the argument and evolution of ideas over time, the conflation of a musical argument with a narrative or philosophical one can be effective as made evident in the numerous programmatic works in the canon, particularly those from the 19th century.  The fusion of the passacaglia form with a narrative element thereby emphasizes the idea of the grand passacaglia as a grand meditation, a focused introspection and emotional response to thoughts on American democracy invoked by the narrator.

The resulting text is assembled from Carlos Bulosan’s semi-autobiographic novel, America is in the Heart (1946), and the essay, “Freedom from Want” (1943), with short excerpts from each interspersed in the present order.  This order is meant to illustrate a ruminative evolution from darkness to light—a gradual movement (1) from a spirit of steadfastness in the face of fierce antagonism and gross inequality, (2) to a consideration of value placed upon national unity and the many faces of the American identity, and finally (3) to a contemplation on the fulfillment of the American dream based on democracy’s fundamental aims supported by the many people who embody them. Additionally, an underlying theme that is revisited in the work is the paradoxical nature of the United States as both “kind” and “cruel” in its treatment of immigrants and minorities as depicted numerous times in Bulosan’s America is in the Heart.

Bulosan: On American Democracy remained a work-in-progress in years when the Charlottesville, VA Unite the Right Rally (August 11-12, 2017) and the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building both remained recent memories burned deeply in the Nation’s consciousness.  As such, the racialist and fascistic significance of these two events are referenced relative to historical events tracing back to Bulosan’s own time, lineages made to the Watsonville, CA riots in 1930 (among others), and the rise of Fascism in Europe between the 1920s to 1945, respectively. As is evident in Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, the author’s love for democracy is continually situated in contrast to its polar opposite, hearkening to a timely consideration of what democracy means for contemporary listeners in this present day and age, so rife with political conflict and violent upheaval far too often.  Bulosan: On American Democracy therefore serves as both an unequivocal appreciation for American democracy as well as a dire warning of the dangers posed by authoritarian and fascist influence perched at the highest tiers of our government.

- Program Note by composer

Text by Carlos Bulosan

Part One

Why was America so kind and yet so cruel?

- America Is in the Heart, 147

We do not take democracy for granted. We feel it grow in our working together—many millions of us working toward a common purpose. If it took us several decades of sacrifices to arrive at this faith, it is because it took us that long to know what part of America is ours.

Our faith has been shaken many times, and now it is put to question. Our faith is a living thing, and it can be crippled or chained. It can be killed by denying us enough food or clothing, by blasting away our personalities and keeping us in constant fear. Unless we are properly prepared, the powers of darkness will have good reason to catch us unaware and trample our lives.

- Freedom from Want, published March 6, 1943

Why was America so kind and yet so cruel?

- America Is in the Heart, 147

Part Two

We must live in America where there is freedom for all regardless of color, station, and beliefs. We must be united in the effort to make an America in which our people can find happiness. It is a great wrong that anyone in America, whether [they] be brown or white, should be illiterate, or hungry, or miserable.

- America Is in the Heart, 188

The totalitarian nations hate democracy. They hate us, because we ask for a definite guarantee of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom from fear and want. Our challenge to tyranny is the depth of our faith in a democracy worth defending. Although they spread lies about us, the way of life we cherish is not dead. The American dream is only hidden away, and it will push its way up and grow again.

We have moved down the years steadily toward the practice of democracy. We become animate in the growth of Kansas wheat or in the ring of Mississippi rain. We tremble in the strong winds of the Great Lakes. We cut timbers in Oregon just as the gold flowers blossom in Maine. We are multitudes in Pennsylvania mines, in Alaskan canneries. We are millions from Puget Sound to Florida.

- Freedom from Want

Part Three

We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the first [Native American] that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino pea pickers. America is not bound by geographical latitudes. America is not merely a land or an institution. America is in the hearts of [those who] died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of [those] who are building a new world. America is a prophecy of a new society of [people]: of a system that knows no sorrow or strife or suffering. America is a warning to those who would try to falsify the ideals of [the free].

- America Is in the Heart, 189

America is the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling on a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities is closed to [her]. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant, and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated or illiterate—we are America!

- America Is in the Heart, 189

If you want to know what we are, look at [those] reading books, searching in the dark pages of history for the lost word, the key to the mystery of the living peace. We are factory hands, field hands, mill hands, searching, building, and molding structures. We are doctors, scientists, chemists, discovering and eliminating disease, hunger, and antagonism. We are soldiers [and] citizens guarding the imperishable dreams of our [ancestors] to live in freedom. We are the living dream of [the dead]. We are the living spirit of [the free].

- Freedom from Want


  • Ablaze Records: Wind Orchestra Masters Call-for-Scores, 2022, winner.


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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