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when we were children

by David Lang

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The director Francesca Zambello asked me to write something for choir, as a companion piece for a staging of my work the little match girl passion. I wanted to make something that shared the spiritual questioning of the passion, and was also somehow appropriate for children.

I remembered this famous line from Saint Paul:

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

That is the King James version. Of course, this line wasn’t originally in English. Paul was born a Jew in what is now Turkey, he worshipped in Hebrew and he spoke Greek. This famous Christian line must have gone on an interesting journey to get to King James, and to us.

For my text I compiled all the differing translations into English that I could find, I cut them up into phrases and I alphabetized them, creating a kind of catalog of its meaning, as it changes from translation to translation.

"when we were children" was premiered by the Irish Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul Hillier, and received its American premiere at the Carlsbad Festival, sung by Sacra/Profana and conducted by Krishan Oberoi.

lyrics

when we were children
text by David Lang (after Saint Paul)

I am done with childish ways
I did away with childish things
I do not act like a child anymore
I felt as a child
I gave up childish ways
I gurgled and cooed like any infant
I had done with what belonged to the child
I had the intelligence
I had the understanding of a child
I have finished with childish ways
I have made useless the things of the babe
I have no more use for childish ways
I have outgrown childish ways
I have put away childish things
I left those infant ways for good
I no longer used childish ways
I put an end to childish ways
I put aside childish things
I put away childish things
I put away the things of a child
I put childish ways behind me
I put the ways of childhood behind me
I reasoned as a child
I reasoned like a child
I set aside childish ways
I set aside the things of a child
I set aside those childish ways
I spake as a child
I spake as a little child
I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child
I spoke as a child
I spoke like a child
I stopped doing things like a child
I stopped those childish ways
I talked and felt and thought like a little child
I talked like a child
I thought as a child
I thought as a little child
I thought like a child
I understood as a child
I understood as a little child
I understood like a child
I used to speak like a child
I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child
I voided those things that were of a little child
I’ve put an end to childish things

and have put them aside
and I made plans like a child
and reasoned like a child
and when I have become a man
argued like a child
as a babe I was reasoning
as a babe I was speaking
as a babe I was thinking
as children do

but, when I became a man
but now that I have become a man
but when I became a man
but when I became an adult,
but when I grew up
but when I was made a man
but when we grew up
just so
my childish speech and feeling and thought have no further
significance for me
my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child
now I am a man
now that I am a man
now that I am an adult
now that I am become a man
now that I have become a man
reason like a child
since I became a man
the thoughts of a child
think like a child
thought like a child
we quit our childish ways
we thought and reasoned
when I became a man
when I became an adult
when I grew up
when I was a babe
when I was a child
when I was a little child
when I was an infant at my mother’s breast
when we were children

credits

released December 1, 2014
performance by Sacra/Profana choir
conducted by Krishan Oberoi
commissioned by the Glimmerglass Festival
dedicated to Francesca Zambello

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David Lang New York, New York

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