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And the Hummingbird Says . . .

A song-cycle about the late Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai based on the five Japanese Buddhist elements.

The Latest Update

AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS now available on CD Baby

Posted on December 13, 2017 by Martin Rowe

Mihoko and I are delighted to say that AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS . . . is now available for purchase and download on CD Baby for you, your family, your friends, and your fans to purchase. 

More Updates ▼

Excerpt from All Five Songs Are Now Available

Posted on October 16, 2017 by Martin Rowe

Less than a week to go to the world premiere of AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS . . . , and the CD is now in production. You can hear one-minute excerpts from all five songs here. Tickets are still available for the concert (on Saturday October 21 at 1:45), which you can order here. You can order the CD/download of the song cycle here

Our Video Explaining Our Thoughts about AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS . . .

Posted on September 21, 2017 by Martin Rowe

Our video explaining our thoughts about AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS. . . . You can preorder the cycle and order your tickets here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/and-the-hummingbird-says-africa/x/229472#/ 

Detailed Synopsis of AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS . . .

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Martin Rowe

Here is a synopsis of the five songs of the cycle:

1: Earth—Kirinyaga

Mixing English, Kiswahili (Kenya’s national language), and Kikuyu (Maathai’s native tongue), “Kirinyaga” explores the cultural, spiritual, and social fragmentation that followed when Christianity and colonization’s arrival in British East Africa. Voices plead for rain from Mt. Kenya (known to Kikuyus as “Kirinyaga” or “Place of Brightness”) and from God. A Kiswahili hymn is interwoven with a British propaganda film, Maathai’s own rendition of the hymn, and thoughts on how a people strayed from the earth that gave them life, and the subsequent loss of culture and animals.


2: Water—A Tree of God

“A Tree of God” uses two stories from Maathai’s life: how as a child she played in a stream that dried up when a sacred fig tree was cut down; and her sadness at the felling of a 200-year-old sapele in front of her. She recalls the water and growth cycles of the natural world and her own place within the stream of time.


3: Fire—And the Hummingbird Says

One of Maathai’s favorite stories is of a hummingbird who tries to put out a forest fire using only the water she can carry in her beak, while the larger animals mock her. This song sets Maathai’s retelling of the fable amid voices of opposition, fear, or indifference to climate change. 


4: Wind—Three Sorrows

“Three Sorrows” focuses on the burdens women carry and their struggles to confront men in power. It draws its inspiration from the sit-ins by mothers of political prisoners in Kenya that Maathai joined, as well as the misogyny she and other women undergo every day.


5: Void—Dark Matter

Maathai chose to be cremated in a coffin of hyacinth (an invasive species), papyrus, and bamboo (both renewable resources), rather than wood. “Dark Matter” explores the life-giving properties of womb-like soil and the cosmic material that is most of the known universe. Reflecting on how we as individuals, as a species, or conscious life can make a difference, “Dark Matter” rests in the ambiguities of sunyata, or “emptiness”—life from nothingness; nothingness from life.


HUMMINGBIRD CD and Performance Tickets Pre-Ordering Site Now Live

Posted on September 12, 2017 by Martin Rowe
Mihoko and I are delighted to say that the pre-ordering page/crowdfunding page for AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS . . . is now live. In addition to giving you a chance to purchase this brand-new piece of contemporary classical music and/or attending its world premiere (as well as receive other “perks”), we’re hoping to raise money for student school-fees at the Juba Diocesan Model Secondary School (JDMSS) in South Sudan. Wangari Maathai was passionate about education (especially for girls) and the instillation of values in young people. JDMSS not only educates girls and boys equally, but we heard recently that the top ten girls who passed their exams in South Sudan all came from JDMSS, and six of those ten received the scholarships we are trying to raise money for. To educate a child over four-years costs only $700 in total! Who knows? Perhaps there is another Wangari Maathai among them.
You can also go straight to the Symphony Space page to purchase tickets if you don’t want to pre-order the CD/download or do the charity thing.

And The Hummingbird Says . . . Was Recorded!

Posted on August 10, 2017 by Martin Rowe

We had a full day—eight hours!—at the Great Hall at Cooper Union yesterday recording the entire song-cycle and getting its multiple moving parts synching just right. Many thanks to the singers for their astonishing stamina and concentration, and to Tim Cramer for his considerable labors. Also thank you to Christine Sarkissian of CU for her assistance and enthusiasm for the project—and to Cece Wasserman and Panta Rhea for making it all possible. Now we move to post-production and the creation of a CD/download—and, ultimately, the concert performance. Watch this space for more in the coming weeks!

First Rehearsal (Proper!)

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Martin Rowe

We had a wonderful in-depth rehearsal of “Kirinyaga: Song of Earth” and “Tree of God: Song of Water” on Friday July 27th. Mihoko and I were not only thrilled at how the music is shaping up but amazed at the concentration of the singers. At times, it seemed like an entire Broadway show (including thunderous dancing) appeared to be being rehearsed next door to our studio. But these guys are made of strong stuff. Looking forward to hearing “Three Sorrows of Women: Song of Wind” and “Dark Matter: Song of Void” tomorrow!

Our First Readthrough

Posted on July 11, 2017 by Martin Rowe

We had our first readthrough last night, and we are delighted by the commitment and enthusiasm for this piece. It was a real thrill to hear the music and words take shape—especially since it was a hot evening and time was short. We’re also delighted to say we received a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts for HUMMINGBIRD, so it’s gratitude and appreciation all round. Here is a photo from the evening.  

We’ve a recording date for HUMMINGBIRD!

Posted on July 7, 2017 by Martin Rowe

Mihoko and I (Martin) are pleased to announce that we have a recording date for all five of the songs in the cycle: “Kirinyaga: Song of Earth,” “A Tree of God: Song of Water,” “Three Sorrows: Song of Wind,” “And the Hummingbird Says. . .: Song of Fire,” and “Dark Matter: Song of Void.” The recording will take place in August in the Great Hall of Cooper Union, and we’re very grateful to Christine Sarkissian and CU for allowing us to use a space that is so metaphorically and literally resonant. It was in the Great Hall, in March 2005, that Wangari Maathai gave her first talk in New York City after she’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

We’re also delighted to announce four new singers that will be bringing this cycle to life: Elaine Lachica (soprano), Hai-Ting Chinn (mezzo), Michael Steinberger (tenor), and Steven Moore (baritone). You can read their bios by clicking on the links on the New Music USA HUMMINGBIRD page. We couldn’t have asked for more accomplished musicians, and we’re thrilled they agreed to participate. We’re scheduled to meet for a readthrough of the cycle on July 10th, and rehearsals will begin shortly thereafter.
The recording of HUMMINGBIRD will be closed-door, and we will have CDs and downloads available for purchase in October. However, we know that nothing beats a live performance. Thanks to a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, we have been able to schedule a performance. AND THE HUMMINGBIRD SAYS . . . will receive its world premiere as part of an arts and culture festival in New York City on ​Saturday ​October 21st, at Symphony Space. Details and how to order tickets will be provided to you here and elsewhere online over the next several weeks. So, watch this space, and please invite anyone you think might be interested to follow us here.​

We again want to thank New Music USA and our wonderful sponsor Cece Wasserman for their support and patience (!) as this project has grown and matured. It is now about to bear fruit.

“And the Hummingbird Says . . . ” Nears Completion

Posted on February 2, 2017 by Martin Rowe
Composer Mihoko Suzuki and I (Martin) are pleased to report that “And the Hummingbird Says. . . ” song cycle is moving toward the closing stages. “Kirinyaga: Song of Earth,” which was workshopped this time last year, has been revised and is complete; “I Like to Go to Rivers: Song of Water” is also finished. Mihoko and I are currently nearing the end of “The Three Sorrows of Women: Song of Wind” and “And the Hummingbird Says: Song of Fire.” Within the next few weeks we will be moving onto the final song, “Dark Matter: Song of the Void.” We estimate the cycle will be around an hour in length. (Song titles may still change!)
Our aim is to complete the cycle within the next two months and to start planning for a recording. At the same time, we will be initiating a crowdfunding campaign to allow people to purchase the recording, fund a performance of the cycle in New York City, and (with any luck) to be able to fund a student to attend all four years of school in Juba, South Sudan. We will be updating this page more regularly when we have more to report. 

“And the Hummingbird Says . . . ” Takes Flight

Posted on July 28, 2016 by Martin Rowe

First of all, thank you so much to New Music USA for the grant—and more importantly, the confidence that you’ve shown in Mihoko’s and my vision. Secondly, we’re delighted to announce that because of an additional grant from the Panta Rhea Foundation, we’re now in a position to record the entire five-song cycle, which we plan to do by February 2017. In addition to printing CDs preordered through a crowdfunding campaign, our aim is to top the project off with a concert, tentatively scheduled for March 2017.

We’ll be sure to keep you up to date as the sonic texture of the cycle develops, and let you know about opportunities to purchase the CD or download the music and buy tickets for the concert. 


And the Hummingbird Says . . . is an interlinked song-cycle (sung by a soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone) based on the ideas, words, and life of the late Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai (1940–2011) and the five classical Buddhist Japanese elements (earth, water, fire, wind, void). The first song, “Kirinyaga: Song of Earth” has been performed as a work-in-progress by singers from the New York–based Music Sacra. The four other songs are: “A Tree of God: Song of Water,” “And the Hummingbird Says . . . : Song of Fire,””Three Sorrows: Song of Wind,” and “Dark Matter: Song of Void.”

Mihoko Suzuki (composer) and Martin Rowe (librettist) were inspired by Maathai’s humanity and her commitment to conservation, social justice, women, and the marginalized.

Martin worked with Maathai on her four books, writes: “Our verbal and sonic influences are varied: the lyricism of English pastoral poetry; the spare directness of the Book of Common Prayer; the celebration and passion of Swahili hymns and songs; recordings, including WM’s own voice; a 1940s British colonial propaganda film; and electronic sound materials. The effect is at once clarity and purity of line and a collage of sometimes conflicting voices that reflect Maathai’s complexities and the difficult, sometimes tragic choices facing colonized peoples, environmental activists, and people of conscience.”

Mihoko writes: “My challenge as the composer is exactly how much ‘ethnicity’ to bring to the music. As the life of this extraordinary woman was deeply rooted in Kenya, I, who grew up on the other side of the world in Japan, needed to figure out ways to respect and honor her and her culture through my own musical language. Loss of cultural identity, I think, is a fear that many of us non-Westerners have shared sometime in our lives. Wangari’s role as a female politician in a world dominated by men is another aspect I could relate to, since I’m often labeled as a ‘woman composer’ instead of ‘a composer.’ You won’t necessarily hear what you imagine to be the sound of ‘Africa’ in this song-cycle, but I try to convey its spirituality and richness through polyrhythm and polymeter in overlapping or juxtaposed sonic patterns. With the words, the interwoven harmonic timbres explore a poetry of sound drifting in and out of tonality like a wandering soul.”

Our aim reaches beyond one woman, place, or time. It is to take the audience from earth to void as the ultimate release from suffering, the transformative power of action without ego, the recognition of impermanence that is the deepest expression of the natural cycle, and a call for repairing the world in the face of devastating climate change.

This recording will start a collaboration with Maathai’s supporters here and abroad, particularly through Brighter Green, a New York–based non-profit working to raise awareness of issues that span the environment, animals, and sustainability. Brighter Green collaborated closely with Maathai and her organization (the Green Belt Movement). All of us wish to keep her memory and her vision and values alive.

Project Media

Ode to Number 14
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Features: Mihoko Suzuki

Please listen from 5:40.

A piece for Piano Four Hands by Mihoko Suzuki, written as a form of “dedication” to the composer’s upper maxillary first molar (#14) which put her through a harrowing year-long treatment. Featured on The NYFA Collection, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Fellowship Program, 2015. Performed by Mihoko Suzuki & Hiroko Suzuki.

Bhavacakra (Cycle of Existence)
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Please listen from 3:08.

A chamber ensemble work—written for saxophone, electric guitar, cello, bass, piano, and drums/marimba—was awarded a 2013 Artists’ Fellowship by New York Foundation for the Arts in the category of music/sound. “Bhavacakra” (Sanskrit for “cycle of existence”) incorporates the essences of Prog Rock and Fusion in sonata-form developing through intensely driven thematic transitions: as such it has the characteristics of Beethoven. This piece is dedicated to the memory of my brother, who passed away a few years ago.

Kirinyaga : Song of Earth

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Please listen from 3:57.

This work-in-progress version from the song cycle “And the Hummingbird Says . . .” was recorded live at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, NYC, on March 20, 2016. Composer: Mihoko Suzuki / Libretto by Martin Rowe / Sound Design by Timothy Cramer / Peformed by Danya Katok (soprano), Heather Petrie (mezzo soprano), Emerson Sieverts (tenor), Timothy Krol (baritone) of Musica Sacra.

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

11 updates
Last update on December 13, 2017

Associated Event

October 21, 2017 | New York, NY
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Project Created By

I’m the author of three nonfiction works and a novel. I’m the co-founder of Lantern Books and the co-vice president of the Culture & Animals Foundation. I am working with composer Mihoko Suzuki on And the Hummingbird Says . . . , a song-cycle exploring the life and work of the Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace laureate,…

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Sound Design / Recording engineer
New York, New York
New York, New York

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