“There Suddenly Arose”
an excerpt from “Some Favored Nook”, composed by Eric Nathan

On March 3, 2019, FirstWorks presented the New England premiere of Eric Nathan’s musical composition, Some Favored Nook at the First Unitarian Church of Providence. This new chamber opera is based on the incredible 24-year correspondence between poet Emily Dickinson and essayist, abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and Colonel of one of the first African-American regiments in the Civil War, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Some Favored Nook places Dickinson’s writings in the context of the Civil War and focuses on her private struggle as a female poet in a patriarchal society. The composition is resonant with themes of love, death, women’s rights and civil rights; issues that are as relevant in today’s deeply divided world as they were in Dickinson’s time. More information about the complete work can be found here: http://www.ericnathanmusic.com/some-favored-nook.

The following excerpt, There Suddenly Arose from section eight (VIII), focuses on Colonel Higginson’s journal entry of January 1, 1863, when he and his African-American regiment joined residents of all races from the surrounding area of Beaufort, South Carolina for a public reading of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the attending crowds’ touching spontaneous reaction.

Meet composer Eric Nathan and watch an excerpt from his concert in the below video, produced in partnership with Steer PVD

Who is composer Eric Nathan?

Eric Nathan HeadshotEric Nathan’s music has been called “as diverse as it is arresting” with a “constant vein of ingenuity and expressive depth” (San Francisco Chronicle), “thoughtful and inventive” (The New Yorker), and “clear, consistently logical no matter how surprising the direction, and emotionally expressive without being simplistic or sentimental” (New York Classical Review). Nathan is a 2013 Rome Prize Fellow and 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, and has garnered acclaim internationally through performances by Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic’s Scharoun Ensemble, soprano Dawn Upshaw, violinist Jennifer Koh, at the New York Philharmonic’s 2014 and 2016 Biennials, and at the Tanglewood, Aspen, Aldeburgh, Cabrillo, Yellow Barn and MATA festivals. Nathan currently serves as Assistant Professor of Music in Composition-Theory at the Brown University Department of Music.

History, ELA, Visual Arts, Music Composition, SEL Lessons for Grades 9-12:

ACADEMICS (Grades 9 – 12): History, ELA, Visual Arts, Music Composition, SEL
Standards, Grades 9 – 12:
HP 1 – 1a – d: Students act as historians, using a variety of tools (e.g., artifacts and primary and secondary sources) by:
a. formulating historical questions, obtaining, analyzing, evaluating historical primary and secondary print and non-print sources;
b. explaining how historical facts and historical interpretations may be different, but are related;
c. identifying, describing, or analyzing multiple perspectives on an historical trend or event;
d. using technological tools in historical research.
HP3: Analyze how an historical development has contributed to current social, economic, or political patterns.
– Synthesize information to convey how the past frames the present and make personal connections in an historical context.
HP5: Critique the role and contribution of various cultural elements in creating diversity in a society.
G2: Apply geographical concepts, skills, and tools to examine the human-made and physical characteristics of places to interpret the past, address the present, and plan for the future.
C & G – 1-2: Analyze how actions of a government affect relationships between individuals, society, and the government.
C & G – 3-1: Evaluate and defend positions regarding personal and civic responsibilities of individuals, using provisions in seminal documents
English Language Arts (ELA)
Reading Informational Text:
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid, and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
RI.1 – 11-12: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RI.2 – 11-12: Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI.8-11-12: Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy.
W.9b – 9-10: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research to literary nonfiction.
W.9b – 11-12: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research to literary non-fiction.
L.2 – 9-10a-c: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
L.1-11-12a-b: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
a. Apply the understanding that usage is a matter of convention, can change over time, and is sometimes contested.
b. Resolve issues of complex or contested usage, consulting reference as needed.
L.2-11-12a-b: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
Online images of original Emancipation Proclamation: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation

Black and white portrait of poet Emily DickinsonEmily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. An excellent student, she was educated at Amherst Academy (now Amherst College) for seven years and then attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) for a year. Dickinson began writing as a teenager. Her early influences include Leonard Humphrey, principal of Amherst Academy, a family friend named Benjamin Franklin Newton, abolitionist and author Thomas Wentworth Higginson; who would go on to co-edit the first two collections of her poetry after her death, and a minister named Charles Wadsworth. They and others shared hundreds of letters of correspondence over the years.

Dickinson’s closest friend and adviser was a former classmate from Amherst Academy, Susan Huntington Gilbert, who later married Dickinson’s brother, Austin. The Dickinson family lived in a large home known as the Homestead in Amherst. After their marriage, Austin and Susan settled in a property next to the Homestead known as the Evergreens, built by Austin’s father specifically for the couple. Emily and her sister Lavinia, called “Vinnie”, served as chief caregivers for their ailing mother until she passed away in 1882. Neither Emily nor Vinnie ever married, both living at the Homestead until their respective deaths.

Dickinson first began to withdraw from social life starting in the early 1860s. While scholars have speculated on the reasons, citing everything from agoraphobia to depression and/or anxiety, the period from 1858 – 1865 has proven to be her most productive time as a poet. She secretly created small bundles of verses, unknown to even her family members. After her death, they found 40 hand-bound volumes containing nearly 1,800 poems. Dickinson assembled these booklets by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of poems. In her spare time, Dickinson studied botany and produced a vast herbarium (a collection of pressed plant specimens mounted on individual sheets of paper and classified according to their Latin name) of more than 400 specimens, which now reside in the collections at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. She would send posies of flowers from her gardens to friends and relatives, along with a poem, to commemorate birthdays and other occasions.

Dickinson died at the age of 55, on May 15, 1886, in her bed at the Homestead after approximately two-and-a-half years of poor health. Researchers believe that she died of heart failure brought on by severe high blood pressure.  She was laid to rest in her family plot at West Cemetery. Little of Dickinson’s work was published at the time of her death, and the few works that were published were edited and altered to adhere to conventional standards of the time. Unfortunately, much of the power of Dickinson’s innovative use of form and syntax was lost in the alteration. After Vinnie’s discovery of the secret bundles of poems, the first volume of these works was published in 1890, co-edited by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd. A full compilation, “The Poems of Emily Dickinson,” wasn’t published until 1955. Dickinson’s stature as a writer soared from the first publication of her poems in their intended form. She is known for her poignant and compressed verse, which profoundly influenced the direction of 20th-century poetry. The strength of her literary voice, as well as her reclusive and eccentric life, contributes to the sense of Dickinson as an indelible American character considered one of the towering figures of American literature. An open access archive of Emily Dickinson poems, papers, and manuscripts can be found online here: https://www.edickinson.org/.

Black and white portrait of Thomas Wentworth HigginsonThomas Wentworth Higginson was born on December 22, 1823 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was a Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist, and soldier. In 1853, he addressed the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in support of a petition asking that women be allowed to vote on ratification of the new constitution. His speech, published as “Woman and Her Wishes,” was cited for many years during the fight for women’s rights and voting rights. He was active in the American Abolitionism movement during the 1840s and 1850s, identifying himself with disunion and militant abolitionism. As a member of the “Secret Six,” he helped raised funds and supplies in support of John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. He served in the Civil War from 1862-64; first, as a captain of the 51st Massachusetts Infantry, then, colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally authorized African-American regiment.

He contributed to the preservation of African-American spirituals by copying Gullah dialect verses and music he heard sung around the regiment’s campfires. Following the war, Higginson devoted much of the rest of his life to fighting for the rights of freed people, women, and other disfranchised people. He wrote a book about his Civil War experiences as a commander of the First South Carolina Volunteers entitled “Army Life in a Black Regiment.”

Between 1862, until her death in 1886, Higginson and the poet Emily Dickinson actively corresponded; so much so that Dickinson considered him a literary mentor/tutor. Higginson attended her funeral, reading the poem, “No Coward Soul Is Mine” by Emily Bronte, a favorite of Dickinson’s. After her death, he co-edited the first two collections of Dickinson’s poetry.

While he was in the army, Higginson’s wife moved their home to Newport, RI, where they resided throughout the 1860s-70s. He recuperated there from his war experiences and began his writing and public speaking again. He also became involved in the Newport community. He and the poet/author Julia Ward Howe created the Newport Town and Country Club in an effort to “combine social pleasures with intellectual pursuits.” Guest speakers included Mark Twain, Edward Everett Hale (the speaker who preceded President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of Gettysburg), and Anna Leonowens (the governess made famous in “The King and I”), among others.  The Newport Historical Society holds a selection of his original correspondence in their collection. Mr. Higginson passed away at the age of 88 on May 9, 1911 in his hometown of Cambridge.

The 51st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. It was organized at Worcester from September 25 through October 30, 1862. Thomas Wentworth Higginson became a captain in the unit. From November 25-30, the unit moved to Boston, and then to Newberne, North Carolina; serving there and in Virginia, West Virginia, the White House, and Maryland before being mustered out (discharged) from military service on July 27, 1863.

The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment was a Union Army regiment during the American Civil War. It was composed of escaped slaves from South Carolina and Georgian Sea Islands and was one of the first African-American regiments in the Union Army. Although it saw some combat, the regiment was not involved in any major battles. Its first commander was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who, like all the other officers, was white.

A proclamation by Confederate President Jefferson Davis had indicated that members of the regiment would not be treated as prisoners of war if taken in battle. The enlisted men were to be delivered to state authorities to be auctioned off or otherwise treated as runaway slaves, while the white officers were to be hanged.

Colonel Higginson wrote “We, their officers, did not go there to teach lessons, but to receive them. There were more than a hundred men in the ranks who had voluntarily met more dangers in their escape from slavery than any of my young captains had incurred in all their lives.”

The regiment was particularly effective at conducting raids along the coasts of Florida and Georgia, due to their familiarity with the terrain. African-American privates were paid $10 per month, the rate for laborers, rather than the $13 paid to white privates. This served as the precedent for the over 170,000 “colored” troops who followed them into the Union Army. The regiment was re-designated the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment on February 8, 1864. It was then mustered out (discharged) on February 9, 1866 at Fort Wagner, South Carolina. The symbolism of this location holds great power and honor as it is located above the mass graves of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th Massachusetts, the second African-American volunteer regiment formed by the Union Army and one that displayed great valor during the Civil War.

LESSON #1: The Emancipation Proclamation Explained

  • • Read the background information provided by the National Archives regarding the Emancipation Proclamation found in the Resource Materials: Emancipation Proclamation section.
  • • How does it make you feel?
  • • Were you aware of its limitations and exemptions?


LESSON #2: The Emancipation Proclamation Text


LESSON #3: A First-Hand Account of the Civil War

  • • Read Colonel Higginson’s account of the public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 in Beaufort, South Carolina found in the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment section.
  • • How does the style of the Colonel’s writing differ from today?


LESSON #4: Gullah Language

  • • The Gullah region is located in southeastern North Carolina, coastal low country regions of South Carolina and Georgia, including the Sea Islands, and northeastern Florida. The Gullah people speak a Creole language that is a combination of African-American, indigenous Seminole, and English.


LESSON #5: From Enslavement to Freedom

  • • Read Colonel Higginson’s account of the public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 in Beaufort, South Carolina found in the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment section.
  • • Put yourself in the shoes of the African-American soldiers and residents who are hearing that they are free. Write a “journal entry” based on the reaction of one of these people.


LESSON #6: Analyzing a Historic Image

  • • Look closely at the image of the First South Carolina Volunteers hearing the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation found in the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment section.
  • • Analyze the image. What do you see? How does it make you feel?


LESSON #7: Bearing Witness to Freedom

  • • Imagine you are Colonel Higginson, a devoted abolitionist (a person who favors the end of the practice and institution of slavery). From his journal entry, he was obviously moved by the impromptu singing of America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee:
    • Just think of it!—the first day they had ever had a country, the first flag they had ever seen which promised anything to their people, and here, while mere spectators stood in silence, waiting for my stupid words, these simple souls burst out in their lay, as if they were by their own hearths at home! When they stopped, there was nothing to do for it but to speak, and I went on; but the life of the whole day was in those unknown people’s song…. and so ended one of the most enthusiastic and happy gatherings I ever knew. The day was perfect, and there was nothing but success.”
  • • Visually illustrate the Colonel’s reaction. You can sketch, paint, collage, or combine colors to represent his emotional response.


LESSON #8: Capturing a Moment of History

  • • Using the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment, visually depict the overall gathering of January 1, 1863 described by Colonel Higginson.
  • • The Colonel outlines the scene in great detail. Be sure to note the geography of the area, the different levels of staging, who was sitting, who was standing, the clothes people would have worn to such an occasion in 1863 South Carolina. Note the details the Colonel mentions about “that peculiarly respectable look which these people always have on Sundays and holidays.” Who is he referring to? How might the mode of dress of this group of people differ from others? Regardless of how they are dressed, how might their demeanor be before the reading of the Proclamation compared to after the reading?


LESSON #9: Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

  • • Read the Colonel’s journal entry from January 12, 1863 found in the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment section.
  • • How does this reaction differ from the January 1 reaction? Why?
  • • Do you agree or disagree with the Colonel’s characterization of the one dissenter? Why? Why not?
  • Be sure to put yourself in the mindset of a northern white man from 1863, not someone from the 21st century.


LESSON #10: The Power of the Written Word

  • • Read the concluding paragraph to Colonel Higginson’s book found in the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment section.
  • • Explain the following two quotes:
    • “The vacillating policy of the Government sometimes filled other officers with doubt and shame; until the negro had justice, they were but defending liberty with one hand and crushing it with the other. From this inconsistency we were free. Whatever the Government did, we at least were working in the right direction. If this was not recognized on our side of the lines, we knew that it was admitted on the other.”
    • Till the blacks were armed, there was no guaranty of their freedom. It was their demeanor under arms that shamed the nation into recognizing them as men.”


LESSON #11: Human Dignity for All

While Colonel Higginson may come across as paternalistic at times, he obviously respected the men he served with and believed that all men and women should be free and have the right to vote.


LESSON #12: There Suddenly Arose

  • • Read composer Eric Nathan’s interpretation of the January 1, 1863 journal entry recounting the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation found in the Resource Materials: There Suddenly Arose.
  • • What does it say to you? Can you find where he quotes from? Did he change any words? What is the intent of the words and phrases chosen?
  • • Write a paragraph comparing how you felt when reading the journal entry found in the Resource Materials: Army Life in a Black Regiment versus reading Eric Nathan’s composition versus hearing it sung in the accompanying video.


LESSON #13: America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee

  • • Read the lyrics to America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee found in the Resource Materials: My Country ‘Tis of Thee.
  • • This was written in 1831 by Samuel Francis Smith when he was a student at Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. It became an unofficial national anthem until 1931 when the Star Spangled Banner was officially adopted.
  • • Do the lyrics convey the sense of feeling associated with the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863? Give examples to back up your opinion.

In her spare time, Emily Dickinson studied botany and produced a vast herbarium (a collection of pressed plant specimens mounted on individual sheets of paper and classified according to their Latin name) of more than 400 specimens, which now reside in the collections at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. An online digitized version can be viewed here: https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:4184689$8i

Try pressing some flowers from your garden using the following methods:


I. Make a Wooden Flower Press


– 2 pieces of plywood, 9’ x 12”

– Paper for blotting

– 4 wing nuts and bolts

– A drill (use with help of parent or guardian)

  1. Cut two pieces of plywood in 9-by-12-inch rectangles. Drill holes in each corner of the two boards; be sure they line up properly when stacked.
  2. Place the flower between the two pieces of paper, and much like a sandwich, layer it so that it is wood, paper, flower, paper, wood.
  3. Use wingnuts and bolts to tighten everything together. You’ll need to change the blotter sheets every four days or so (this helps prevent browning) and the flower will need to be pressed for three to four weeks.


II. Press Flowers in a Book


– Heavy books

– Paper for blotting

– Tweezers

  1. Place the flower between two pieces of paper, and place them within the pages of the book. Depending on the size of the book, you can press multiple flowers at once. However, be sure to space them out so that the moisture from one flower doesn’t transfer to another.
  2. Use more books to weigh down the book once it is closed. Be sure not to disturb the arrangement of the flowers upon closing.
  3. Change the blotter sheets every few days here as well. After two to three weeks, the flowers will be completely dry. When removing, use a pair of tweezers, or very carefully use your fingers, as a completely dry flower is very delicate.
  4. After the flowers have been dried and pressed, glue them to a clean piece of paper using clear drying glue. It’s best to put a thin layer of glue on the paper and them press the flower down. Wait at least 24 hours to be sure everything is dry.
  5. Then, look up the Latin name for each flower and write it next to it on the page. For instance the Daisy, also known as a Marguerite, has a Latin name of Bellis Perennis. The Tulip has a Latin name of Tulipa Liliaceae.
  6. Using colored pencils or watercolors on another sheet of paper, draw and/or paint your pressed flower.