A Crown for Sonia (2008)

Commissioned by USC Composer/Writer Program

Poem by Seth Michelson

Duration: 5 minutes

Scoring: soprano, cello, piano

Ainsley Soutiere, soprano;
Xian Zhuo, cello; Zhou Tian, piano
12 May 2008, Alfred Newman Hall, University of Southern California

Score Sample


Performed by Ainsley Soutiere, soprano;
Xian Zhuo, cello; Zhou Tian, piano.

Program Note

In this collaboration, a selection from Seth Michelson’s bilingual heroic crown of sonnets about the genocide in Argentina (1976-1983), “A Crown for Sonia,” was set to original music by composer Zhou Tian. The piece won first prize at the 2009 ASCAP and Lotte Lehmann Foundation Art Songs Competition.

Below is the text being sung. The complete crown of sonnets can be found in Eyes Like Broken Windows.


My wife’s family fled Argentina

a tiros de bala, los milicos

firing shots at them, bullets sizzling

past their ears. Así the family, five in all,

two parents con sus pibes, ran in tears,

death be not proud, my wife was nine, her

siblings littler. Behind, they left a dog, ferns

unwatered, plates in the sink, stuffed animals

forever silent on children’s beds, forever.

Here now, my wife’s mother, una brava

científica, teaches cowgirls to swap

shotguns for lives in cancer research,

y mi suegro, a scientist, too, plays Bach on piano,

explaining, note by note, Yo no fui un desaparecido.



así: “like this”

brava: “brave”, “strong”, “fierce”

científica: “scientist”

desaparecido: “disappeared”; used as a verb, the word refers to the process by which the military forcibly “disappeared” people during the genocide in Argentina (1976-1983); used as a noun, the word refers to the people who disappeared during that time, most likely after being kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by members of the Argentine military; the symbolic figure for the number of desaparecidos (“disappeared” people) in Argentina during the genocide is 30,000; in the poem, the line “Yo no fui un desaparecido” is a claim of defiance against the fascists meaning “I wasn’t disappeared” or “They didn’t manage to disappear me!”

milicos: a common term of derision for members of the Argentine military during the genocide; the vehemence of the derision depends upon the context and inflection of the noun in its delivery.

pibes: “children”, “kids”, the term is a colloquial, tender, and somewhat dated Argentine word, and here “con sus pibes” roughly means “with their kids” or “with their children”

suegro: “father-in-law”

tiros de bala: “gunshots”


© Copyright Zhou Tian / Zhou Tian Music
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