The story of “Reparations” by KCKCC Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Justin Binek

“Reparations” is part of a larger long-term songwriting project of mine involving poems written by my friend, Kathryn Sparks. A couple of years ago, Kathryn sent me several collections of her poetry, with a note saying that several composers had set her poems to music, but never in jazz styles. At this same time, my wife and I had found out that we were expecting our child, so one particular poem cycle jumped out at me: Lullabies and Nocturnes. It’s actually a double cycle, and I decided to focus on the poems in the collection “Lullabies: To Begin And End Again,” as I figured that having more lullabies at my disposal would come in very handy.

I’ve always thought of the song cycle as a concept of music composition. As a classical performer, I’ve loved singing song cycles like Hugo Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder and Claude Debussy’s Fetes Galantes, so the challenge of setting a poetry cycle greatly appealed to me. When I’m setting a lyric to music, I try not to force the issue. I spend a lot of time reciting the words out loud to “find the music within,” rather than writing a melody and then trying to make the poetry fit with it.

In “Reparations,” my readings of the lyric settled into a pattern that lended itself to a groove at a moderate tempo, and a melody with a consistent rise and fall. As I played around with the song a bit more, the groove ended up being part jazz, part contemporary R&B. Harmonically, the poem itself isn’t necessarily “sad” or “happy,” so I came up with melodies and a chord structure that didn’t sound necessarily upbeat or downtrodden – it’s written in such a way as to be a little ambiguous.

Again, all of these “Lullabies” that I’ve been writing were originally written to be performed as a soloist, but one of my favorite things about teaching at KCKCC is writing arrangements for our award-winning vocal jazz ensemble, The Standard, directed by John Stafford. I had played a rough recording of the song for Stafford and suggested arranging it for The Standard; he agreed right away. Writing for a full vocal jazz ensemble allowed me to play with text painting and color even more, bringing out aspects of the poetry in new ways.

As the ensemble began working on the arrangement, Stafford came up with new ideas for the recording. The recording actually begins with the entire poem recited by Rev. Shanna Steitz, the Senior Pastor at Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Rev. Shanna’s recitation was then sampled by DJ Joe Straws, whose scratched samples are heard throughout the recording as well. These additions add more layers to the recording, and the entire final product is something that is artistic, and groovy, and extremely cool, and a wonderful reflection of the talent of our students.

Justin currently serves on the faculty of Kansas City Kansas Community College as an Assistant Professor of Music specializing in Music Theory and Jazz Improvisation. He received a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Performance with a Jazz Studies emphasis and a minor in Choral Conducting from the University of North Texas in 2017; at UNT, he served as a Doctoral Teaching Fellow, teaching undergraduate and graduate Applied Jazz Voice lessons, undergraduate and graduate classes in the vocal jazz curriculum, and directed vocal jazz ensembles. Binek is an internationally recognized jazz and classical singer, pianist, and clinician/adjudicator. He is a prolific arranger and composer whose works, including his jazz-inspired Missa Lucis (an ecumenical mass for soloists, choir, rhythm section, and horns) have been published by Kerry Marsh Music and Sound Music Publications.  As a contributing author to Diana Spradling’s groundbreaking book, Jazz Singing:  Developing Artistry and Authenticity, Justin has presented numerous clinics at the JEN, IAJE, and ISME Conferences.  Justin is currently an at-large member of the National Association for Music Education’s Council for Jazz Education, and has served on the boards of the Pennsylvania ACDA chapter and the New Jersey Association for Jazz Education. (Courtesy of

Preview a sound clip of “Reparations” at The song will be available for purchase on September 15, 2020.

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