Martin Rokeach

Martin Rokeach is a San Francisco Bay Area composer. The song “Well Mr. Diary” is an excerpt from an oratorio about the Great Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1937, to be premiered by the Oakland Symphony in 2022. 

martinrokeach.com

I hope viewers are affected by this video performance of a song I composed in 2019 for tenor voice and piano entitled “Well Mr. Diary.” Its subject is income inequality. The text is taken from the diary of a striker in the Great Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1937, where 2000 courageous autoworkers occupied General Motors Plants in Flint, Michigan for 44 long days and nights. At the time, GM was the largest corporation in the world, the equivalent of occupying Microsoft or Google today.

 

Now nearly forgotten, the Great Flint-Sit-Down Strike is the most important labor action in American history. Quite literally it transformed the United States, stimulating a sweep of unionization that for the next forty years reduced income inequality to its lowest levels since the founding of our nation. “Well Mr. Diary" is an aria from an hour-long oratorio about the strike that will be premiered in 2022 by the Oakland Symphony. Though the text is over eighty years old it possesses a universality that resonates with the struggles of working people today.

 

Well Mister Diary, here we are,

This strike has been festering for years,

Deep grievances, insults, speed-ups,

You can be pushed so far and pushed so hard even with working men.

 

What have we to show for all our years of hard labor?

Just bills and more bills.

Yes we’ll pay them back ‘til the next layoff comes,

then its back into debt again.

 

Why don’t we save our money you ask?

Once we pay off the grocer, the landlord, insurance, the light bill, the gas bill,

some clothes for the kids and a little change for church,

we end up with just a couple of dollars 

to run us until next payday.

Could you save your money on what we’re paid? 

 

So Mister Diary, let’s you and I stick it out

with the rest of the boys.

When you’re right you’re right, you can’t lose. 

 

Heavenly Father watch over our families,

and speed our safe return.

Good night.

Well Mr. Diary

Text from the diary of Francis O’ Rourke (public domain)

Text shaped for voice by librettist Rebecca Engle

Taylor Stayton, tenor; Stacie Haneline, piano

Rebecca Engle (librettist, dramaturg) is a theatre director. At Saint Mary's College of CA, she is the Head of Performance & Theatre Studies. 

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