Invitation to a Die-In


Music & concept by Nkeiru Okoye

Libretto by David Cote

2017, revised 2021

Monodrama for Baritone and Orchestra

Approx 12 minutes

Themes: Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter,

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Invitation To A Die-In is a “sung story” written in direct musical response to recent murders of unarmed Black men at the hands of police officers or vigilantes. It is part work for baritone and orchestra, that is simultaneously both monodrama, and performance art. An African-American baritone tells the story from the perspective of the deceased, their families, police officers, and citizens on all sides of the issue. Musically, it is a dramatic, stark portrait of African American men being hunted and haunted by the past.  The work was Commissioned by Ng Tian Hui and the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra In memory of Trayvon Martin. 

Composer's program note

The preliminary concept for Invitation to a Die-In came to me on New Year’s Day 2015 in response to the rash of police slayings of Black men. I spoke to David Cote, my librettist, about it.

After a few exchanges, he penned his poignant text, which I immediately loved.  Yet, setting these words to music proved to be more difficult than anticipated.  I’d never composed something so angry, painful, and disjointed.


Once the writing started, I instinctively decided to infuse the spiritual, “Witness,” throughout the work, charging all to watch and be accountable for the events that would unfold.  My initial arrangement combined a funeral march-like quality with rhythmic shifts that disorient the listener.  The melody’s tunefulness would clash with the dissonant, ascending, six-note figure that starts Invitation and resurfaces throughout the work’s segments.


What I had not anticipated was my growing horror at writing a character who was deceased, looks reflectively over the events that cause his murder, and then capturing that murder through music as he pleads for his life. As I was completing Invitation, irony struck me:  I had grown attached to this imagined young man after only months of working on him sporadically. How much more do family members mourn their actual sons, fathers, brothers, and uncles who die, having known them for a lifetime?


Arizona State University performance

Nathan De Shawn Meyers, Baritone

Jeffrey Meyer Conductor

Rachel Finley, Director

Arizona State University Orchestra

World Premiere

Mt. Holyoke College Orchestra

Damian Norfleet Baritone

Maestro Ng Tian Hui