American composer Julia Wolfe wrote this piece for chorus and orchestra, and it was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 2019. This is her explanation of why she wrote the piece:

For years I have been walking by the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on Washington Place in downtown New York. The building, originally named the Asch Building and later renamed the Brown Building, is around the corner from where I teach at New York University. There are three small plaques on the out- er wall that inform the public of the tragic fire that took the lives of 146 garment workers on March 25, 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the protests that came both before and after, ignited a public outcry for change.

The majority of the victims of the Triangle fire were young immigrant women, Eastern European Jews and Southern Italians, who had fled their homelands to escape persecution and poverty. They arrived to these shores with sewing skills and were eager to work on the large factory floors. They sat at long tables, working long hours, amidst the roar of hundreds of sewing machines. The garment workers had no recourse against intolerable conditions, no worker protections. They began to organize. I became fascinated by the young women who led the fight for reform — Clara Lemlich, Rose Schneiderman, and others, who persevered against extreme obstacles. After being beaten by hired thugs, and having six ribs broken, Lemlich quickly bounced back into action. Years later, in an interview, when asked about her activism, she declared, “Ah, then I had fire in my mouth.”

In Fire in my Mouth, I weave fragments of oral history, the clatter of factory sounds, Yiddish and Italian folk songs, words of protest, and stories of loss and grief. With my collaborators, projection artist Jeff Sugg and director Anne Kauffman, I follow the story of these women who rose up to demand a more human existence. This piece is dedicated to their memory.

You can check out the program notes from the New York Philharmonic here, and below is a video interview about this piece with Julia Wolfe:

Here is a recording of the opening of the piece:

The words (lyrics or text) for this opening section are:

I want to talk like an American 
I want to look like an American
I want to sing like an American
I want to walk like an American
I want to dream like an American 
Scheme like an American
I want to stand like an American 
I want to smile like an American 
I want to pray like an American 
Play ball like an American
Cook like an American
I want to laugh like an American
I want to dance like an American 
Have a chance like an American, I want to…

Here is a passage from the end of the movement:

The ending of the movement is based on the speech by Clara Lemlich, which motivated workers to strike.  It’s the largest strike by female, American workers and known as the Uprising of 20,000:

Ah — then I had fire in my mouth 
fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire

You can hear the complete movement here:

The photo below is of Clara Lemlich, whose words are used in Wolfe’s piece, wearing the fashionable and popular shirtwaist.  This shirt became a symbol of the modern woman of the early 1900’s:

The women below, photographed in 1909, are protesting for fair wages and working conditions:

Women working at the Triangle shirtwaist factory: