Once-robins (for Ash and Blake)

for Clarinet, Horn in F, Violin, Cello, and Piano


text by Ash

This piece tells the story of a mentor of mine, who is now more like a sister. It tells the story of 2012, when she gave birth to Blake. In many ways the music is an attempt to depict this fantastical world of childhood and the more complicated world of motherhood, the joy and reverence but also the pain of always having to let go. This story may be a little different than others of its kind, though, because Blake has Down syndrome, and from my limited perspective as a humble witness, the emotional arch of that journey is different than that of mothers who don't have a baby with Down syndrome. 

For movements I, II, V, and VI, the text accompanying this piece comes from Ash. Movement III incorporates spoken word. These are things that have been said to Ash or come from books that were given to Ash.

My ultimate intent in this project is for it to be healing, a meditation and celebration, but also the pain of words like "normal," that bar us into certain ways of being. Above all though, this piece is about the quiet certainty of love.


I. "Happy birthday, little Blake! Welcome to the world!"

We found out the child was a boy on February 8th and we named him at that point - Blake Alan Swanson. My husband Dan’s first words, “That’s my boy!!” and pride dripping from every syllable.

I heard a heartbeat start dropping and immediately asked if that was my Blake and they said no, it was my own heartbeat.

The doctor said, “Happy birthday, little Blake! Welcome to the world.”

They said he had a semi-crease, slanted eyes and lower ears, all consistent with Trisomy 21.

Calmness…acceptance…I never once questioned that he was mine and I would love him no matter what they told me.


II. All Because of the Extra Chromosome that Exists in Every Cell of His Body

How many mothers are there now with a three year old with Down syndrome. Down syndrome down syndrome down syndrome - what a strange ring it has. And not really a ring. It’s a drone and a chant that pervades my life. It sounds so strange and it has no meaning until it does and then it means everything and everything means Down syndrome. What does normal mean anyway? What a horrible, dreadful word.


III. from Friends

I can’t go out without at least two or more people recognizing and asking me and telling me about their mother’s brother’s cousin’s dog’s aunt’s brother’s wife’s son who had Downs 20 years ago and what a blessing they are and how they are just incredible and how their personalities are just perfect.




V. Is it obvious?

Can they see the Downs? Is it obvious? Are they just being nice? I find Blake so cute and beautiful but he is mine. Maybe other people see it and are quickly judging. Maybe they are whispering their real thoughts in their minds where I can’t hear. Sometimes I look through his pictures and the almond shaped eyes jump out at me. I get so scared of the world he will grow up in.


VI. He will be pure love

Blake… if I think without any outside influence, then he just is. He is just my child, he is just my son. I feel a smile creep over my face and feel a sparkle in my eye - because that is all he is in those moments. It is just me and him. There is nothing more.