Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

– James Baldwin –

a note from the librettist

Racism in America is a difficult and complex subject, and one thing that I’ve heard over and over for many years in conversations with people of color is that white people need to talk to other white people about racism. When dawn pierce came to John Conahan and me with the question, “is there room in classical music for white people to do this work?” we began a journey that answers a resounding “yes,” though not without many missteps, twists and turns, helpful criticism and learning, learning, learning.

We initially conceived of Don’t Look Away as white people talking to white people, being uncomfortable putting words into the mouths of those who experience racism rather than those of us who can only try to understand it from the outside, but dawn pointed out that even in majority white communities there will be people of color. We didn’t want the piece to exclude anyone, so we rewrote it multiple times to make the language more inclusive. We solicited feedback from people of color in our lives, professionals, and some of the faculty, staff, and students at Ithaca College (which will premiere the piece in January, 2023), who helped us make the language and message clearer and more precise. Their invaluable suggestions and generosity helped make this piece what it is today, and developing this with the help of our communities was a lesson in the power of working together.

Don’t Look Away (Requiem for a World That Never Was) is modeled after a requiem, which is the Catholic mass for the dead. It’s not a religious piece, but I have found that the elements of a requiem mirror what many white people go through when they discover the realities of racism in America. Many of us were taught to be colorblind, that racism was over, that it was rude to talk about race and that racism is only perpetrated by bigots and therefore is easy to spot. But that isn’t true, and discovering the realities of systemic racism and implicit bias and letting go of a world that never existed is a complex journey, but one necessary to be able to work for positive change.

I chose to set the piece during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests against police violence after the murder of George Floyd not just because it was the culmination of years of increasing visibility of police brutality against Black and Brown people, but also because it was the first time many white people that I knew joined a protest, started to learn about systemic racism and implicit bias, and started to ask questions and want to make a difference. The movement was possibly the largest mass protest movement in American history, with more than 11,000 protests from the biggest cities to the tiniest of towns, protests that were overwhelmingly peaceful. It was an extraordinary moment in our history, and a potent symbol of what might possibly be a reckoning with our past and a move towards change.

But showing up for a summer’s worth of protests is not enough. The work to make America a just and equitable society is ongoing. We created this piece to foster the beginnings of a conversation. It is not the work itself. This is a piece of art, created in a moment of time along the “moral arc of the universe” and in tandem with the anti-racist work we are doing. We hope it encourages individuals and communities to engage in dialogue that can lead to meaningful change. Thank you for joining us.

meaghan boeing

November, 2022


Movements of Don’t Look Away


I. Don’t Look Away

The first movement of the piece is an invitation to this moment and an exhortation not to retreat while we examine this difficult topic. It recognizes that we all start somewhere, and everyone is welcome to this work.

II. Black Lives Matter

The second movement functions as the credo (Latin for “creed,” the thing we believe). It breaks down why Black Lives Matter is an important slogan, and why All Lives Matter is problematic, even when it is well intentioned.

III. Protest

The third movement highlights the power of peaceful protest to inspire positive change in a world where the voices of marginalized people go unheeded. It bears repeating that research shows the Black Lives Matter protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, with the rare disruptions often caused by outside agitators and overly aggressive policing (see below).

IV. Small Steps

This solo movement is from the perspective of a white person growing into anti-racism, who sees there is a problem they want to help solve, but is unsure what the next steps are.

V. Tear Gas

This movement is the dramatic center of the work, and contains the most tension and conflict. It uses part of the Dies Irae from the requiem mass, which translates as “Day of Judgment,” and portrays a peaceful, powerfully emotional protest that gets interrupted by counter-protestors and police aggression. The potential clash is interrupted by a gorgeous chorale which calls on us to Listen. This strong and steady voice cuts through the chaos, directing us toward specific, positive action.

VI. Offering

Our second solo movement pairs with Small Steps, and shows the growth of our white character as they make a more informed, stronger commitment to justice.

VII. Lacrimosa

Latin for weeping, this movement grieves the fact that so many white people grew up thinking we were in a world that in fact did not exist, were told to be colorblind, which erases the experience of people of color, and so much time was lost pretending there was no problem to solve. Racism costs everyone, including white people, who by accepting a system of oppression, accept disconnection and the dehumanization of ourselves. Feelings of guilt, shame, sadness and loss are part of awakening to the reality of our system that privileges whiteness, of realizing how all of us have been failed by those who passively allowed that system to continue and did not question it. White people must work through those feelings to come ready to help those who are doing the work to eradicate racism.

It moves into a celebration of the beauty and strength in diversity, which we gain when we start to recognize the different experiences of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander people in this country.


Referencing the idea that “the bill has come due” and that we are overdue to rectify this problem, this movement recognizes how white people created and perpetuated the system that privileges themselves. All of us want to see the people who came before us—our family, our ancestors, the founders of the nation—as “good people,” but in this instance, if white people ignore the dark side of what their forbears created, allowed, sanctioned and ignored, we won’t ever be able to dismantle it. Once we start to see the injustice in society, the support system for our privilege, we have to acknowledge it, and use that power for change.

IX. On Peace

Our final movement is not an ending, but a send-off. It looks forward to the work we have yet to do to make a meaningful difference in our communities. Much like the end of the requiem, in which mourners pray for “the angels to lead you into paradise,” the work that we do to create the society every person deserves will be what affords us true peace and rest. Without justice, there cannot be peace.

Shying away from conversations that make you uncomfortable is coming at the expense of our lives.”

– Kayla Monteiro –

Introduction from the composer

“‘Black lives matter’ means ‘black lives matter, too.’ The ‘too’ is implied. People who claim “all lives matter” are missing the ‘too’ part.”

– John McWhorter –

more about “black lives matter”

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” first appeared in 2013 in a Facebook post written by Alicia Garza after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Garza wrote that she felt “a deep sense of grief” both at the acquittal and the reactions of many people, who did not see the connection between racism and the killing. Community organizer Patrice Cullors responded to the post, including the first use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.

The hashtag has since exploded in popularity, particularly in response to the killings of unarmed Black people and the failure of the legal system to hold anyone accountable: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.

After the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, bravely captured on video by teenager Darnella Frazier, was broadcast around the world, protests erupted, and the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” with its clarity and power, was the most prominent slogan. Between 15 million and 26 million people in America took to the streets, and protests were held around the world in solidarity.

For many white people, the 2020 protests for racial justice were their first real engagement with anti-racism. For others, the protests felt threatening, despite the fact that demonstrations were overwhelmingly non-violent, and disruptions were often caused by outside agitators and police aggression. We chose to set Don’t Look Away in the dramatic framework of the Black Lives Matter protests because they were an entry point into the discussion of systemic racism in America for many white people. We hope it moves our audiences to continue to listen and learn and join in the ongoing struggle for racial justice.

NOTE: “Black Lives Matter” in this context refers to the hashtag/slogan and resulting protest movement, not the support of any particular organization using that phrase.

facts about the black lives matter protests

Despite some public perception resulting from sensationalist media coverage, the overwhelming majority of Black Lives Matter Protests were peaceful. Out of over 11,000 protests, 94% had no disruptions at all. Between 15 and 26 million people gathered to protest against racism and police violence, and it is remarkable how few incidences there were. In fact, data shows the BLM protests were even more peaceful than the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which was also a nonviolent movement.

Data collected by the Crowd Counting Consortium from May 2020 to June 2021 show that

  • 94% of protests involved no participant arrests
  • 97.9% involved no participant injuries
  • 98.6% involved no injuries to police
  • 96.7% involved no property damage

Disruptions were also often the result of outside agitators and police aggression, which cannot be blamed on BLM protestors.

Police took a heavy-handed, militarized approach to the movement, escalating tensions.

  • Authorities were three times more likely to intervene in pro-BLM demonstrations than in other demonstrations 
  • They were two times more likely to use force against pro-BLM demonstrators than against other demonstrators
  • Authorities engaged non-violent protests associated with BLM more than twice as often as other types of non-violent protests,” and “when intervening, authorities have used force 37% of the time against peaceful pro-BLM protesters, compared to under 20% of the time against other peaceful protesters.”

When right-wing militias and militant social movements engaged with pro-BLM demonstrators, the risk of violence increased. Approximately 26% of demonstrations where far-right groups engaged with BLM demonstrators turned violent or destructive.

Car rammings by individuals who took issue with the protests were eight times more common at demonstrations associated with the BLM movement than at other types of demonstrations, with incidents reported at nearly 1% of all BLM-related events.


“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

– John Lewis –


say her name/say their names

One of the chants you hear in the piece–-and at protests-–is “Say Her Name! Say Their Names!” It is important to keep the victims of police violence present in the minds of Americans as we confront a system that endangers Black and Brown lives.

“Launched in December 2014 by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS), the #SayHerName campaign brings awareness to the often invisible names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police violence and provides support to their families.”

There are no current laws requiring law enforcement to report use-of-force incidents, so there are no comprehensive, official lists of victims of police violence. This is one collectively generated list, but there are many.


NOTE: “Say her name” has also long been used to amplify the identities of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and we encourage awareness of this tragedy.