As an immigrant, Minneapolis poet Michael Dennis Browne welcomed the chance to provide lyrics for a song to be performed at a presidential inauguration.
“Now We Belong” is a tribute to multiculturalism that melds Browne’s lyrics with music by composer John Wykoff of Lee University in Tennessee. It will be performed by the Missouri State University Chorale Friday morning before Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office.
Browne, professor emeritus of English at the University of Minnesota, said he woke up one October morning with the words in his head.
“Diversity is kind of a trendy word, I know, but it’s the strength of our nation,” he said. “I came over from England 51 years ago, and it’s been a great life for me. I know the pain that’s been caused by remarks made by the president-elect, banning people and using disgraceful exclusionary language.
“Of course, at the time we thought we were electing the first woman president,” he said regarding the artistic commission, which came last fall.
“But it makes for me, in a good way, a chance to be a little subversive,” he said with a soft laugh.
From the first stanza: “Once we were strangers / We were welcomed / Now we belong and believe in this land.”
Browne, well known for his collaborations with the late composer Stephen Paulus, said he’s not sure if the text will be printed for people to read, or if it will only be heard in song. “But I hope people will say that the words cheered them a little on a day of national trauma.”
Regardless of which candidate was elected, though, Browne said it’s an honor to have his work performed at one of the nation’s most solemn rituals.
“It’s a big thing, and I’m a political being, so initially I was excited to be a part of world history.” He said he’s delighted the students in the chorale will have a chance to be part of such an event.
Browne won’t be in Washington, D.C., but composer Wycoff will be, “so he’ll be my fly on the wall.”
The Missouri State University Chorale also will perform “Now We Belong” at a concert Jan. 21 at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington.
The song concludes: “Keep faith, guard mind / Take heart, guard spirit / Take courage, keep watch / Feed longing, feed love.”