In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Expected Face
  • Katherine Young (bio)

For voice and piano, commissioned by Long Beach Opera, with text by A.Martinez from the poem "The Longest Improvisation" (duration, six minutes), 2020.

Expected Face was commissioned by Long Beach Opera in the fall of 2020 as part of its "2020 Songbook," collecting songs "about 2020." Around that time, A.Martinez published her poem "The Longest Improvisation" in the journal Contratiempo in a Spanish translation by Miguel Marzana. A poet, visual artist, mother, and community and arts organizer based in Chicago, Martinez is a friend, colleague, and fellow artist-mama whom I deeply admire. Martinez wrote her poem in March 2019, yet "The Longest Improvisation"—describing a solitary moment of self-reflection at the end of a long-term relationship—resonated profoundly with me as I grappled with 2020. With its multiple, revealing, and compounding pandemics, this had been a year of profound loss, uncertainty, and instability. In many ways it felt like as a society we, too, were in the midst of a protracted, messy breakup. Things had reached (another) breaking point, and while the future was unclear, things could not continue as they had been. Now that some of us had looked ourselves in the mirror and seen "an expected face, different," there was no going back. The relationship, with its inequities and oppressions, was toxic, deadly. And collectively we were demanding something different and hopefully better from and for ourselves and others. With thoughts like these inspired by Martinez's poem, I tried to write the music in a way that would hold space for this intimate portrayal of an extremely fragile and significant moment.

I want to also thank the artists who premiered the piece, soprano Emily Scott and pianist Stephen Karr, for their invaluable contributions to the piece's development and the staff of Long Beach Opera for their support of the project. [End Page 55]

"The Longest Improvisation" by A.Martinez

Meaning had fallen offthe words. I peered into

bathroom mirrorthrough hesitantsteam, wiped away

to expose

an expected face, different.

The mattress began to cupmy body like a soft coffin, in the stillestmoment of morning …

… … … …

the longest improvisation, welie together, cadavers. A map.

An empty dawn congealsabove humidifier, hum and ire.

Read the complete poem here:

[End Page 56]

Expected Face
for voice and piano



Diamond noteheads indicate humming.

X noteheads indicate unvoiced sibilants, vocal fry, or other noisy sounds.


Bass String Harmonics: All were notated using as a reference.

The top staff indicates the resulting pitches, while the lower staff indicates which strings these harmonics are found on and, thus, which keys should be struck. The fractions indicate the nodes on the strings, which should be depressed with one hand while the other hand articulates the notes on the keyboard.

Additional Implements: The pianist is asked to use a wire brush (like that used by drummers), a Super Ball mallet, and a wooden stick or back of a mallet for a few inside-the-piano techniques. These techniques are notated on special staves:

inside the piano, used with Super Ball mallet techniques

inside the piano, used with wire brush techniques

bouncy drag across agraffe with Superball mallet

with Super ball mallet [End Page 58]

expected face

for voice and piano

commissioned by Long Beach Opera

with text by A.Martinez from the poem "The Longest Improvisation"

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Katherine Young

katherine young's electroacoustic music and sonic art use expressive noises, curious timbres, and kinetic structures. Collaboration is central to her practice. The LAPhil, CSO's MusicNOW, Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt, Third Coast Percussion, Ensemble Dal Niente, Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik, the University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art, and others have commissioned her work. She has worked closely with Wet Ink, Ensemble Nikel, WasteLAnd, Distractfold Ensemble's Linda...


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