NOTE: This entry was originally posted in January 2010. I’m reposting it today in honor of the 50-year anniversary of King’s historic speech in Washington.
Some years ago while auditioning samples for compositions, I was listening to pieces of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech and was astonished to realize that that the speech is — from start to finish and without variation — 125 beats per minute for over 15 minutes.
I have always thought that the “Dream” speech is about the most passionate, important, lyric, and beautifully constructed stretch of oratory imaginable. The realization that it’s also right on tempo caused me to start listening to it as a musical construction. It has a nearly symphonic structure, with distinct movements. And of course there’s that astonishing finish.
I wanted to compose something that would underscore the speech’s musicality — a simple piece that wouldn’t call attention to itself or stand independently of the speech, but act as a bed to illustrate the structure and lyric beauty of King’s amazing words.
I did absolutely no editing to the speech beyond toning down some of the applause and EQing it a bit for clarity. It runs in “MLK” exactly as it was recorded, from start to finish, and the music is composed around it. All stops, breaks, returns, emphases are exactly as Rev. King delivered them.
After many listenings my appreciation for Rev. King’s words (and passion, and hope) has only deepened, and the demonstration of their musicality fills me with a childlike wonder. I hope that you are as moved and astonished by the beauty and depth of this speech as I continue to be.
Download: Steve Boyett – “MLK”