And in my garden...

Performed by Cantata Profana: Kate Maroney, mezzo-soprano; Jessica Han, flute; Gleb Kanasevich, bass clarinet; Adelya Nartadjieva, violin; Madeleine Fayette, cello; Mika Sawada, piano; Doug Perry, vibraphone; Jacob Ashworth, conductor

American Composers Alliance 80th Anniversary Concert

DiMenna Center, Cary Hall New York, NY

Concert May 12, 2017

And in my garden... for mezzo-soprano, flute, bass clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin and violoncello

My aim was to create a musical setting that echoed the tone and form of these elegant, descriptive poems. The texts use simple prose to paint beautiful scenes of a humble garden viewed in various seasons. Recurring images of flora, fauna, and landscape form an understated structure that is reflected in the music.

I served as an administrator for the School of Music from 2010 to 2012. I found the work fascinating, but the amount of time and energy needed to successfully execute the job kept me from teaching and composing. Unfortunately, when I returned to my primary roles of teacher and composer, I found for the first time in my (at that time) 40 years of composing that I was suffering from writer’s block! It was extremely frightening. Although I initiated (and sometimes completed) several projects, a great deal of bad music was created during this time. I found that teaching, writing about and analyzing music helped. I also took viola lessons for the first time in 35 years. I reassessed my methods and decided to simplify my approach to composition. The music instead used uncomplicated pitch and rhythmic schemes. The emphasis was on motivic development and especially creating vibrant timbres. The work that best exemplifies this new attitude is And in my garden (2016). The work developed in two versions at the same time: for mezzo-soprano and piano and an arrangement for Pierrot ensemble. The text by Amy Lowell seemed especially suited to the goals of simplicity and directness of musical materials. Several haiku-like poems were combined to create a storyline with recurring imagery. The music depicts elements in the text and projects the general mood through the motives and timbres. The most obvious examples are the “croaking of frogs” and “temple bells.” The sparseness of orchestration and constrained pace reflects the overall feeling of melancholy. And in my garden proved an interesting orchestration process. Composing both the piano and ensemble version simultaneously helped form the piece. One version informed the other: a line added in the ensemble suggested revisions to the piano accompaniment, and revoicing chords in the piano influenced possible instrumental options. The overall goal of making each moment sonically vibrant and engaging was achieved.

The vine leaves against the brick walls of my house,

Are rusty and broken.

Dead leaves gather under the pine-trees,

The brittle boughs of lilac-bushes

Sweep against the stars.

And I sit under a lamp

Trying to write down the emptiness of my heart.

The snow whispers around me

And my wooden clogs

Leave holes behind me.

But no one will pass this way

Seeking my footsteps,

And when the temple bell rings again

They will be covered and gone.

Cold, wet leaves

Floating on moss-coloured water,

And the croaking of frogs-

Cracked bell-notes in the twilight.

In the sky there is a moon and stars,

And in my garden there are yellow moths

Fluttering about a white azalea bush

Is it a dragon fly or maple leaf

That settles softly down upon the water?

Upon the maple leaves

The dew shines red,

But on the lotus blossom

It has the pale transparence of tears.

All day long I have watched the purple vine-leaves

Fall into the water.

And now in the moonlight they still fall,

But each leaf is fringed with silver.

The song cycle And in my garden… uses the poems November, Falling Snow, The Pond, Proportion, Autumn Haze, Circumstance,

and Autumn from Pictures of the Floating World by Amy Lowell (New York: Macmillan, 1919).