The power of the red phone

A few years ago, I wrote a film score for a guy who—soon after finishing the film—got deported to his home country of Sierra Leone. My hopes of getting paid seemed slim until he emailed me a series of numbers for a money transfer. I took the numbers to the bank, where the teller told me he couldn’t help me and sent me across the street to the CVS. “Ask for the red phone,” he advised. Astonishingly, after the clerks at the drug store helped me do some dialing on this mysterious phone, the store manager walked over to me waving a check! (And yes, it cleared.) This was my first in-person contact with the concept of “remittances,” the payments that immigrants receive from and, more often, send to loved ones back home. Fast forward to a new commission I am working on: to musically examine the immigrant experience of my beautiful Montgomery County, Maryland. I’ve decided to use spoken words in the piece: the real, collected stories of local immigrants. This will be another first: interviewing story subjects. But I’m coming to understand that the immigrant experience in this country is one of many firsts, as well as one of many ties to the loved ones left behind.