The Song of Job 9:11
Book, Music and Lyrics by Danny Ashkenasi
Spoken Text adapted from The Book of Job (King James, revised)
and various media publications
“The Song of Job 9:11” was written in response to the events of and immediately following September 11, 2001. Initially titled “9/11 The Book of Job”, the first of many concert performances was at La MaMa ETC, April 8, 2002. A theatrically staged run was produced as part of the FringeNYC Festival, 2004.
The following video clips and audio tracks are from the 10th anniversary concerts, conducted at various locations throughout New York City in 2011:
Chapter One: Awake
Chapter Two: I’m Alive
Prologue to I’m Alive
Chapter Three: A Prayer for the Dying
A Prayer for the Dying
Chapter Four: Another Hundred Voices
Another Hundred Voices
Chapter Five: Brave New World
Brave New World
Chapter Six: Last Exit to Nowhere
Last Exit to Nowhere
Chapter Seven: Lay Down in Shadow
Lay Down in Shadow
Chapter Eight: Divine Intervention
Chapter Nine: Chorale – the voice in the whirlwind
Chorale – the voice in the whirlwind
Chapter Ten: Hope
Notes on a Composer articles on The Song of Job 9:11
The Song of Job 9:11 – Chapter Ten: HOPE – concert video, Sep 9, 2011 The Song of Job 9:11 – Chapter Ten: HOPE – concert audio, Sep 11, 2011 Above are recordings of the finale of the tenth anniversary … Continue reading
I believe in the good of mankind I believe in the end truth prevails It resides in our hearts and our minds Should we seek it we’d find love unveiled HOPE Happy New Year. Let’s hope for a 2016 that … Continue reading
“I’m Alive” and “Divine Intervention” are two songs that speak to humanity’s age-old despair, in the person of one man crying out against overwhelming unspeakable events outside of his fault and control. They were written for The Song of Job … Continue reading
FringeNYC, 2004 Backstage Review – Elias Stimac (quoted in full)
A stark and compelling new musical work appeared at the Fringe Festival this year, one that honors the memory of loved ones lost in one of the darkest days in recent history. “9/11 – The Book of Job” is the creation of Danny Ashkenasi, who wrote the music, book and lyrics to the production. He has forged a powerful testament both to the nature of despair and the indomitable will of mankind, culminating in a cathartic finale.
Subtitled “A Musical Convocation in 10 Chapters,” the moving musical is told from the perspective of the bystanders who watched the towers fall that fateful day. They ponder their existence and place in the world. Juxtaposed with this crosssection of modern America are the figures of Job and his wife, survivors from a different era. The image of the biblical hero standing among the businessmen and women is an indelible one that won’t soon be forgotten.
Ashkenasi staged his own work, and the challenging concept reached fruition under his guidance. His cast proved to be an accomplished chorus of voices. Joel Briel and Jamie Mathews were the Old Testament couple who try not to question God despite the afflictions he sends. Allison Easter, Jason Lanyard, and Mark Peters portrayed a trio of “suits” with authoritative presence.
Behind the scenes, Bethany Porter beautifully played Ashkenasi’s haunting melodies on the piano, and Lynne Marlowe choreographed the meticulous movement in the piece (in collaboration with Ashkenasi). The credible costume choices were the contribution of Diane Specisio and the lighting design was the inspired work of Grant Yaeger.
New Musical Remembers September 11, Chapter and Verse
– Suzanne Travers (April, 2002)
It will of course seem an overstatement to say that
9/11: The Book of Job is a show the entire city needs
to see. Inevitably, there are New Yorkers for whom
this beautiful and soul-filling musical, which
interlaces text from the Bible’s Book of Job with news
reports and eyewitness accounts of September 11, will
lack accessibility or appeal. But at its debut
performance April 8 at the East Village theater La
Mama ETC, the audience’s response — five solid
minutes of steady applause — resembled the tight
embrace of an old friend at a funeral, a display
infused with solemnity and encouragement, shared
history and shared sorrow. As the first theater piece
to deal broadly with the terrorist attacks and their
aftermath, 9/11: The Book of Job is a moving,
challenging memorial to that day, its many victims,
and the profound questions it provoked.
For both its poetry and its plot, the Book of Job
proves an inspired point of departure for a meditation
on September 11. The preeminent “when bad things
happen to good people” tale, the story tells of Job,
an upstanding, wealthy, devout man whose children are
killed and his property and health destroyed without
apparent reason, and his struggle to confront God and
understand his suffering. In 9/11: The Book of Job,
the Job character by turns seems to symbolize the
victims in the towers, their surviving loved ones, and
Yet it is the biblical language of Job that offers
such powerful and eerie counterpoints to the 9/11
experience, and Danny Ashkenasi, 9/11: The Book of
Job’s composer, has done a fine job drawing out poetic
imagery that speaks to the destruction at Ground Zero.
“The pit is naked before God, the place of destruction
has no covering/The pillars of heaven tremble, and are
astounded at his rebuke.” Many phrases are
cringe-worthy, and in effect lose the specificity of
the Job story in favor of words that resonate with
the Towers’ collapse. In a line that could easily apply to
the suicide bombers, Job asks God “Why endow with life
the bitter souls whose only joy is to die?”
Mr. Ashkenasi opens the piece with Job Chapter 9,
Verse 11: “Lo, he passes by me and I see him not, he
moves on, but I do not perceive him.” Though the text
refers to God, the words inspire a range of
associations, evoking the stealth of the highjackers,
New Yorkers passing each other on the morning commute
before the planes hit, the perhaps naive innocence of
the pre-9/11 U.S.
The spoken word is layered throughout the original
songs and lyrics of 9/11: The Book of Job.
Accompanying the stirring text of Job are painfully
fresh, mostly first-person accounts of where people
were, and what they saw, heard, and felt as the
attacks unfolded. Culled from reports in The New York
Times and NPR, the excerpts run
together in two simultaneously-spoken monologues that
magnify both the poignancy of such accounts and their
ability to overwhelm. “I was having breakfast at a
small restaurant on West Broadway” “I was sitting
before my computer terminal on the 52nd floor” “I was
on the 81st floor when we felt the collision.” The
accounts are read sotto voce by two performers while
the rest of the choir sings “Another Hundred Voices,”
an homage to Sondheim that reminds us that while each
one of us has his or her own story, part of 9/11 was
taking in so many other people’s stories too.
In a similar vein, Mr. Ashkenasi’s work reminds us how
much technology shaped our experience of the attacks,
to say nothing of our ability to replay and remember
them. Even well-publicized voicemails don’t fail to
astonish: “Hey Jules, it’s Brian, I’m on a plane and
it’s highjacked and it doesn’t look so good. I just
wanted to let you know that I love you and I hope to
see you again. If I don’t please have fun in life and
live your life the best that you can.”
The urgency and bizarre immediacy of the contemporary
speech of the news accounts and first-person
testimonials is balanced by the old English of the
King James version of the Bible, which by contrast
seems out of this world, mystical and ritualistic. Yet
9/11: The Book of Job also shows how news reports and
everyday speech became hallowed centers of their own
ritual. For many New Yorkers, New York Times Portraits
of Grief became daily required reading, an action
like Catholicism’s chanting of the litany of the
saints. Rather than being a documentarian, Mr.
Ashkenasi’s libretto captures the ritualistic and
linguistic dimensions of all this tremendous
outpouring of words.
For all the intimacy of such glimpses of individual
lives, from start to finish the attacks of September
11 could also be called the experience of mass murder
via mass media. Yet just eight months removed from
that experience, it is astonishing how much of the
everyday detail one can forget, and how much Mr.
Ashkenasi forces us to recall. One of the most
remarkable aspects of Mr. Ashkenasi’s libretto is how
comprehensive it is, and how vividly it evokes the
specific details and mood of September 11 and the
weeks that followed. Mr. Ashkenasi began his research
in early October and had finished the musical by
January. While recent television programs such as
HBO’s “In Memoriam” offer a documentarian’s view of
9/11, 9/11: The Book of Job’s scope is more sweeping.
To its credit, its search for the meanings (or lack of
meanings) of September 11 extends to the political
Hence 9/11: The Book of Job is not all sad memorial. A
couple of jaunty songs, “Brave New World” and “Last
Exit to Nowhere,” satirize American patriotism’s
detour into commercialism and jingoism not long after
the attacks. Mr. Ashkenasi’s syncopated lyrics note
“the top cop politician tango/swapping wild west white
house jingoish lingo/bearing lock stock double fisted
barrels/born to walk the talk get caught in a
quarrel.” And from the Land’s End catalogue he has
pulled a gem of a quote, earnest in a way only big
business can be: “Over the past weeks we’ve received
inquiries from customers about the possibilty of
embroidering the American flag on Land’s End
merchandise. We do have this capability and, in
response to these inquiries, we have decided to offer
this service without charge on the items shown below.
At this time, unfortunately, we are not able to
process these orders online…”
Surprisingly, it is in his more political songs that
Mr. Ashkenasi brings us back to a key theological
theme of Job. What role does God play in such
suffering as the city experienced September 11?
Following Job’s lead, Mr. Ashkenasi dismisses the
suggestion in appearances by Osama Bin Laden and
George W. Bush that God sides with either jihad or the
war on terrorism. One of the messages of Job is that
God doesn’t work this way. Mr. Ashkenasi also draws a
keen parallel between the response of Job’s friends
that he must have done something wrong, provoking
divine punishment, and the view that America was
somehow to blame for the attacks. “Think now, who that
was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright
cut off?” they ask. Such sentiment was issued from
across the political spectrum, taking its most extreme
versions in statements by the Reverend Jerry Falwell,
who blamed homosexuality and abortion in America for
inciting God’s wrath, and Susan Sontag, who blamed
America’s global policies. If anything, the moral for
Mr. Ashkenasi is that God plays no real role in these
human events, or if he does, it is a mystery to us.
Like Job, Mr. Ashkenasi’s view is that “It is all
beyond me. I melt into silence.”
9/11: The Book of Job is an intelligent pop musical.
Written for twelve singers, the work is “technically
an oratorio, a choral piece with solos that tells a
Biblical story.” At La Mama, it was performed with
piano accompaniment. Each song tells a story, and
although there are connections from song to song no
plot runs throughout the work. Still, each song is
meant to evoke an emotion, there is a progression –
from Awake! to hope – still there is resolution. Like
Hair, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar in this respect
beautiful music, evocative language, ritual. It is no
accident that Mr. Ashkenasi thinks of it as a kind of
requium, a piece that can mark that day.
Infused as it is with Biblical text and religious
form, it makes sense to perform the piece, as Mr.
Ashkenasi intends to, in churches and temples. “Doing
it in a place of worship makes sense because it
follows a structure that various denominations relate
to,” he says. 9/11: The Book of Job is already booked
for the Village Temple on the anniversary of September
11, and Mr. Ashkenasi is in the process of lining up
other performances in the month of September. Houses of
worship may use the piece as a fundraiser or as a way
to celebrate the memorial.
DRAMATURGICAL STATEMENT for 2011 concerts – KELLY ALIANO
If, as Hamlet claimed, the true role of art is “to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature,” what should our contemporary playwrights be reflecting in their work? What about September 11th, 2001, the day on which planes crashed into buildings and America was changed for good? Or is it still “too soon,” too raw a wound for us to dare make theatre about?
About his play written in reaction to the conflict in Vietnam, entitled US, director Peter Brook wrote: “This was no action on our part – it was a reaction. A reaction to Vietnam that was unavoidably there, thrusting itself on us. There was no choice.”* Brook felt that he must make theatre about what was occurring; he could not ignore or avoid the subject matter, no matter how disturbing. Like Brook’s US, Song of Job: 9/11 is able to hold up the mirror to what occurred in its contemporary moment, reflecting the effects of September 11th in compelling and unique ways.
In an almost cubist manner, The Song of Job: 9/11 presents various perspectives of and about the event simultaneously, layering them together to create a kind of collage. We see both the pain of the survivors and the victims’ families while at the same time hearing the hateful, spiteful, vengeful words of some religious fanatics. There is a docudrama quality here: trying to capture what people said in that moment exactly as they said. The inclusion of the sweeping musical score offsets this, creating an almost dream-like quality in which these words are spoken. This is both a presentation of reality and an artistic musing about these real events.
The final layer built into this piece is the text of the Old Testament Book of Job. Job’s story, chosen for its depiction of the test of faith in the face of extreme suffering, mirrors perfectly the experiences of so many during those tumultuous weeks after the Twin Towers fell. There is an absurdist quality to Job’s statements:
“He makes nations great and He destroys them; He enlarges nations and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste.” Like Didi and Gogo, tied to waiting for an as-yet-unseen Godot, Job finds himself tied to his Lord, believing that all that happens is His will, beyond the control and even the comprehension of humankind.
Job, however, is suspended in a deterministic void. No longer do we have the potential existential freedom of two tramps on the country road by the tree; rather, we have a man entrapped specifically by the will of G-d, a will he cannot control or change. Is this humanity’s position in light of the terrible tragedies of that September morning? Or is this Bible tale significant not only for its portrayal of pain but also for its representation of the overwhelming power of hope? Perhaps, most importantly, this is a story about an individual’s struggle to find understanding in the face of incomprehensible horror.
This piece is remarkable for daring to confront these issues in the moment in which they occurred, without fear or shame. Yet, now ten years later, the piece resonates in new and complex ways. It reminds us about the amazing power of faith – if not faith in a divine being specifically, then certainly faith in the power of the human spirit. Despair is a powerful force and one that we must work actively to overcome.
*Peter Brook, The Shifting Point (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 209.