• Find us on Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Follow us on Instagram
  • View Our YouTube Channel
  • Listen on Spotify
  • View our scores on nkoda
Music Text

Anne E. Moore; Harold McGee; Claude McKay (E)

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes (Hendon Music)

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Harold Prince Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
The Crossing / Bergamot Quartet / Donald Nally
Composer's Notes

a ritual grotesquerie

Who are our modern day Sin-Eaters?

The bread is placed upon the body and it absorbs the sins of the deceased. The Sin-Eater approaches and consumes the bread—the sins—and absolves the dead. This is known as “sin-eating," an unusual practice found in certain parts of Wales, Ireland, Bavaria, and the United States until around the mid-1800s.

The Sin-Eater was an outcast: the lowest member of a community, for whom the act of sin-eating brought further ostracization. Though they were often paid for their service, it came with a greater cost: As they took on the sins of their village, they were rendered virtually untouchable. But sin-eating is neither the only instance of food and ritual being used to evince power or wealth, nor the only scenario in which an individual is made to suffer so that their neighbors don't have to. The confluence of these facts formed the basis of this composition. Ostensibly a work exploring the nature of power in western civilization through its connection to eating and food, SIN-EATER ultimately asks: Who sins or suffers for us today? Whose jobs, or mere lives, expose them to dangerous or difficult conditions, requiring them to take on lasting trauma as they work to keep everyone else safe, healthy, fed, or blissfully unaware of the dark forces always around us?

Drawing connections across time, the work includes texts by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Stephen Crane, Wilfred Owen, Harold McGee, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Jonathan Swift, Claude McKay, and others, using juxtaposition to reveal deeper meaning. Framed as a "ritual grotesquerie," (a reference to the early 20th century genre of horror literature epitomized by writers like Ambrose Bierce) SIN-EATER travels through many terrains: the absurd and the sincere, the beautiful and the horrific, the sacred and the profane. It is my hope that through these varied states, something like clarity will emerge. SIN-EATER winds a path through the dark terrains of our experience so that it might shine light on the power differentials we live with every day, power differentials so common we no longer see them. Thus illuminated, it seeks a path toward a better way of being.

But that of course will depend on us. After all, we are what we eat.

—David T. Little
Sep 20, 2023

Press Quotes

The Wall Street Journal
"The theatricality of Mr. Little’s music, coupled with his original and adapted text, is so intense that it hardly needed the visual cues to have a shattering impact."

"The chilling relationship between eating and power is clear."

Stay updated on the latest composer news and publications