let me tell you about my new piece...
I’ve been having a good deal of fun with a new composition so far this spring. One of our senior students has commissioned me to write a piece for her to play (with others) in a concert this fall in memory of her mother, who died several years ago from cancer.
It’s been a great honour to get involved in something so personal. The questions at the start of a new piece are so numerous: what is the instrumentation? what’s the performing venue? what kind of music/style does the audience expect? level of skill of the players? purpose of the piece?
In this case these questions have been amplified by the knowledge that the entire family (father, siblings, plus extended family) are anticipating a celebration of the woman’s life… what a tremendous joy and responsibility for a composer to step into the life of a family and community...
In the planning stages I have concentrated on 3 things:
…who was the woman the piece is meant to honour?
I spent some time with the family one sunny afternoon in Vancouver, listening to them talk about this wonderful wife and mother, hearing some favourite memories, finding out that she was a classically trained pianist, and generally getting a picture of a faith-filled, positive and energetic woman, encourager and role model to those around her, whose life is to be celebrated with joy …what a great inspiration for my piece!
My student, who commissioned the piece, is a pianist…and she requested two elements in addition: the young girls’ choir she directs at her church, and another friend (TWU music grad) who is a dramatic soprano.
To this, with her permission, I have added a couple of elements of my own: a string quartet and a male choir
The search for texts has taken much of my time in the past few months, and it has been a chance for some good soul searching… I lost a brother to cancer over 20 yrs ago, when we were both young men and his life had seemed so full of promise. One of the things with which God comforted me then—and since—was the knowledge that life is a journey, one whose destination may be sure but path is often not. My brother’s destination has never been in doubt—someday we’ll meet again in God’s presence when my earthly journey ends—but his path was a different one from mine.
I think there are echoes of this in the experience of all who lose loved ones: there was so much we still wanted to do, yet the journey was cut off.
These are some of the mysterious things I’m working with in this piece. The title? (I always seem to start there with a new piece, but I’m still thinking about this one!) There are 3 primary texts I’m working with, and this has as much to do with the overall themes I’ve just discussed as with the groups involved:
Mary’s song, from the gospel of Luke (called the Magnificat…and I’m using mostly English text, with some Latin also)…the song of a young girl so full of enthusiasm and hope for what God is going to do through her…this is mostly for the girls’ choir.
Parts of Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…” This is the voice of a wise, and somewhat world-weary, follower of God, who has seen many things along the journey…it brings some perspective to the ebullient enthusiasm of young Mary’s song…this is mostly for the male choir
Finally, the soprano soloist will weave in and out amongst the other participants, joining with parts of their texts in identification, but also presenting a 3rd text for consideration: an old gospel hymn (19th century) which resonates with both the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and the hope of Mary’s Magnificat…a mature commitment to move ahead on the journey, however difficult, towards a joyous end:
…here’s just a taste…
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
I must admit…I love composing new works! To sit before a blank page or screen, with all the possibilities of creating something new which hasn’t been heard before…it’s at the same time terrifying and completely exhilarating… but that’s a subject for another blog!