Doubt, for narrator and orchestra

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Srinivasan, Asha
Gibson, Robert
Doubt is a single-movement composition of roughly twelve minutes for narrator and orchestra (woodwinds, horns, and trumpets in pairs, timpani, percussion, strings). The piece explores the controversial issue of capital punishment. The text was compiled from resources found on the websites of Death Penalty Information Center ( and Anti-Death Penalty Information (, as well as excerpts from the Bible. Doubt was conceived of as a dramatic work in which a narrator recites factual information in a direct and unemotional manner and the orchestra provides a response to the mixed emotions elicited by the text. The list of dates and case summaries presented in the middle section of the piece seemed most powerful and effective when recited in a natural speaking voice, which is why I chose not to set the text as song. Also, I chose the orchestral medium rather than a chamber setting because the nature of the topic demanded a larger range of colors and combinations, as well as a louder, fuller sound. Much of the music was composed while deciding which texts to include. Thus the music influenced the choice of text as much as the text suggested the musical setting. The four formal divisions of the piece are delineated primarily by the text. The first section is an orchestral introduction representing various emotional perspectives suggested by the texts. The narrator begins the second section with a Biblical verse over sparse orchestration. The third and main section of the piece begins with a new melody in the low strings that is closely related to the harmonic organization of the piece. The narrator lists dates of convictions, executions, exonerations and facts related to doubtful cases. The third section and the narration conclude with another brief passage from the Bible. The fourth section is a dramatic orchestral coda, bringing back the opening harmonies of juxtaposed perfect fifths. The final chord is full of tension and discord, reflecting the oppositions inherent in the topic of capital punishment: life vs. death, sympathy vs. reproach, pain vs. hope, but above all, doubt about guilt vs. innocence.