Water is the driving force in nature. ~Leonardo da Vinci

I have been elsewhere these past few months. If you spoke to me, I only heard part of what you were saying. If music played other than what I was composing, I did not hear it. I vaguely remember the holidays but they intruded upon my inner world and I merely went through the motions, eager to return to the world of water.  Deep within the mystery of watersheds, I often forgot appointments or rescheduled them in order to pursue the trail of liquid sound. One morning, I awoke with musical figures and phrases running through my head and felt as if I had somehow been transformed into water itself. waterdrop

Last month I submitted the score and parts for Watershed, a concerto for cello and orchestra, and attended rehearsals last week. The premiere, featuring cellist Adam Liu and the Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Daniel Meyer, takes place in little more than a week, to be followed by recording sessions. Although I am now more present to the daily life of the world, the music of Watershed continues to play through my head day and night.

Walking through the misty woods this morning with Angel, each step was in rhythm with the flow of water. (Click on any photo to see a full-size photo. All photos ©2018 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved)

The song of the river ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~Buffalo Joe

The inspiration for Watershed is the abundance of water where I live, in the midst of the Pine Creek watershed. The headwaters of the creek begin in the northernmost corner of our county and flow south towards the Allegheny River and then on to the Ohio River. In its travels, the creek becomes a lovely quiet lake in our county park before flowing over the dam and continuing on its way. Many of our local roads in the Pittsburgh area follow the creeks and streams that feed our watershed; driving south on Rt. 8 traces the path of Pine Creek and the many smaller waterways that join it. Local waterfalls feed it and eventually Pine Creek takes a wide meander, a large curving loop, at the Shaler Plaza, and then continues on to join the Allegheny River. Each of the four movements tries to speak in the voice of the creek in its journeys from headwaters to the confluence of rivers.

. . . I feel like the Queen of Water. I feel like water that transforms from a flowing river to a tranquil lake to a powerful waterfall to a freshwater spring to a meandering creek to a salty sea to raindrops gentle on your face to hard, stinging hail to frost on a mountaintop, and back to a river again. ~Maria Virginia Farinango

watershedsignMonths of research have left me with a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for the flow of water through the land.  The idea of the watershed, water flowing to its lowest point to eventually flow to the sea and return as rain, began to heighten my awareness of all things water. I was introduced to the concept of the river continuum by friend and colleague Brady Porter. I discovered that the signs that mark our local creeks and watersheds were put there partly through the efforts of an environmental scientist whose daughter is a cellist and a former student of Adam Liu, the artist for whom Watershed was composed. I discovered that the lake that I love (featured in this video), when drained and dredged in a restoration project a few years ago, revealed the deep trough of Pine Creek running at its bottom, unseen yet present, a hidden current. Everywhere I drive or park my car, I see the ever present Pine Creek, now a beloved companion on my travels. In fact, it is so ubiquitous, it is rarely noticed by those who see it every day.


Pine Creek below a busy road

Water is the most perfect traveler because when it travels it becomes the path itself! ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

I am not alone in being inspired and transformed by moving waters, by streams, by rivers. Countless poets, authors, philosophers, scientists and naturalists have something to say about it.

A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself. ~Laura Gilpin

The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. ~Herman Hesse

I am beginning to understand that the stream the scientists are studying is not just a little creek. It’s a river of energy that moves across regions in great geographic cycles. Here, life and death are only different points on a continuum. ~ Kathleen Dean Moore and Jonathan W. Moore

Look around you – do you see water? Treasure it, listen to it, protect it. If you are so inclined, I hope that you can attend the premiere of Watershed, which I now realize is a love song to moving waterNevertheless, you can discover the voice of the stream or river near you and learn to hear its song. (Update: You can hear music from Watershed here)

I thought how lovely and how strange a river is. A river is a river, always there, and yet the water flowing through it is never the same water and is never still. It’s always changing and is always on the move. . . Am I like that? Always me, like the river itself, always flowing but always different, like the water flowing in the river, sometimes walking steadily along andante, sometimes surging over rapids furioso, sometimes meandering with hardly any visible movement tranquilo, lento, ppp pianissimo, sometimes gurgling giacoso with pleasure, sometimes sparkling brillante in the sun, sometimes lacrimoso, sometimes appassionato, sometimes misterioso, sometimes pesante, sometimes legato, sometimes staccato, sometimes sospirando, sometimes vivace, and always, I hope, amoroso. ~Aiden Chambers

46 thoughts on “Watershed

  1. Pingback: Earth Day, Watershed Edition | composerinthegarden

  2. I’m glad I discovered this older post. I regret living too far from your “Watershed” premiere but am convinced it went well. Can we ever hear some of it here? I just today bought a book abut rivers called To the River by Olivia Laing, an English writer. I also live a few blocks from Portland, Oregon’s Willamette River and the mighty old Columbia River of great history as it traveled/travels into the Pacific NW. Yes, water –lakes and ponds and oceans and rivers and creeks. A favorite one of childhood kept me saner as a teen as it ran through neighborhood woods and open field. I have an abiding love and respect of waters as so many do.–Fine post, thank you.

    • Hi Cynthia, glad you found this post. Yes, water is everywhere isn’t it? As I researched this piece, I was amazed at how interconnected the world is by its waterways. I hope to post some snippets of the piece in the near future; we are still working on the final mix of the recording. It will be released in its entirety sometime in the fall; we are including two other of my orchestral works on the CD and will be recording one of them in early fall. I’ll announce the release when it happens!

      • So pleased to hear it, thanks for the reply.

        –I am a lapsed though once-devoted cellist by the way, if I didn’t mention it before, and also a trained vocalist. Raised in an entirely musical family–father was an educator, musician and conductor–siblings and extended family members being professional musicians/composers/ arrangers. But performing faded from my life in my 20s. (I just posted another nonfiction piece about music.) I at least yet appreciate fine music and all sorts, really–enjoy it daily!

        Regards and best wishes.

  3. I love the idea of a love song to water! Will it be available as a recording? This is a wonderful post, drawing attention to often ignored arteries of water running through our communities. Thank you!

    • Melissa, what a delight to have you stop by! Yes, the piece will be released in late fall; we are recording one more piece to add to the CD and it will also be available on iTunes. I will announce that through the blog.

      I loved your blog; we seem to share a perspective on the beauty and ecology of nature, which you so beautifully express through your paintings. I look forward to exploring more of your work.

  4. I stumbled on your blog by accident, but loved this post. I can sort of imagine being lost in your own world of music; it sounds even more absorbing than writing is though. I love your images of water droplets.

    • Ali, so glad that you found you’re way here and liked what you saw. I explored your blog a bit – such gorgeous photos and I love your writing. Thank you for commenting and leading me to your site. And your roses – ah . . .

  5. I can only imagine how beautiful it all is. When the snow begins to melt in spring, and drip into creeks to flow into rivers, it is music. To create a musical score based upon watersheds is a magical thing. I know what you mean about creative thought even though I’m not a composer. As a writer and a gardener, I often get caught up in my creative reverie, and the world does intrude. Congratulations on your work.~~Dee

    • Dee, my apologies for such a late reply; I just saw your comments today. Thank you for your insights and kind words. I love your description of snow melting into spring – it is a magical process, isn’t it? I love your blog and was quite smitten with your rose post. Gorgeous photos!

  6. How exciting about your new composition. As for water, there is no question it is magical, beautiful, and of extreme practical importance. I look forward to hearing more about your composition.

  7. Where to start? I can see the inspiration running – flowing – all through this post. I love the Aiden Chambers quote, all the musical terms….I think about the Hudson, all the evenings and days I spent at its feet, watching, learning the lesson of “Ever present, never twice the same”, as a stone plaque set into the woodland floor near the river says (by the artist Robert Irwin). BTW, it’s at Wave Hill, which I hope you visit someday if you haven’t already. I was lucky enough to work there years ago in Visitors Services. Simply beautiful land and gardens https://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-ever-present-never-twice-the-same-natasha-marco.html
    Congratulations! The premiere is tomorrow night! It will be so satisfying for you to be there. I like the way you describe being – well, inundated? – in the process of creating the piece. I get it, I feel that regularly, though never have for such a long period of time. I love that you did all the research, and learned more about taken-for-granted waters around you, dove deeply into them. Ah, the wet metaphors are endless, aren’t they? 😉
    Really beautiful photos, too – I think the inspiration spilled over into the visual realm, it really did. Will there be subtle transformations even in your garden? Maybe. I love the serendipity of discovering the signs and cellist connection – those things happen when we’re with the muse, don’t you think?
    We will have to wait to hear snippets of Watershed, but that’s OK. I look forward to it. In the meantime, you can turn your attention to the garden soon, just when it will be needed . It couldn’t have been coincidence that the composing was done in the winter.
    Now I think I should follow the river continuum link – sounds interesting! Have a wonderful week, Lynn! Celebration time!

    • Lynn, yes living near the Hudson would be inspirational, I love the plaque! I’ve never been to Wave Hill, always wanted to go, I heard Marco Polo Stufano speak twice and the garden immediately became a destination for me. Someday . . .

      As I researched the concepts, I realized that I have always lived near water, from small creeks and streams to big rivers all through western PA and all of the waters were connected to each other in ways I didn’t even realize. In his intro to Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, T. S. Eliot said “The river itself has no beginning or end. In its beginning, it is not yet the river; in the end it is no longer the river. What we call the headwaters is only a selection from among the innumerable sources which flow together to compose it.” I’m finding that to be so true and the underlying concept of my musical composition as well.

      Thank you as always for your insights and ideas, Lynn – I love your visits!

  8. Lynne, What a pleasure to hear of your study of water and the process to create it’s sound and passage through music—running deep in thought you are creating a feast for others ears and imagination! Honestly, reading your reflection brought a sense of being washed-over! I so wish I could hear the premier. I am thrilled for you and those who will be inspired performing and hearing your organic work.

    I was so blessed to work with you whe a student at Duquesne University. To perform one of your works for woodwind quintet. I wish I had a recording of that. And I look forward somehow to hearing “Watershed.”

    Enjoy the culmination of the creative process as the performance approaches!

    • Rita, what a delight to hear from you! The woodwind quintet you played on was my very first classical composition to be performed and I remember you very clearly. Thank you for taking the time to stop by the blog; your comments are so kind. It is great to reconnect with you again after all of these years!

  9. Lynn, When I see that you have a posting, I wait to open it, till I have the time to be fully engaged. You inspire my senses, engage my mind and evoke my emotions…God’s gifts were certainly not wasted on you!!!

    I am sorry I won’t be able to attend your premiere, but I am looking forward to hearing it in the future. Keep on keeping on Sistah!!!

    • Cindy, you are always so supportive! I still remember when you came to the premiere of “Sketches of America” and how much that meant to me. I will be thinking of you next week – I’ll make sure that you get to hear the recording!

  10. Water…perpetually offering a beckoning call when I’m in on a quest for visual stimulus, as the following virtually random examples from Colorado attest:


    I can only imagine how it inspires a gifted composer of music. I do know that, for me, hearing the sound of moving water on a walk in the woods is the audible equivalent of light at the end of a tunnel–something redeeming lies nearby.

    Very best of luck on the premiere of the concerto; I wish I could attend.

    • Kerry, I can’t begin to count the times that your images of moving water came into my mind as I was working on this project – they were a great source of inspiration for me, as has your amazing creative work ethic. Thank you for posting these links so that others can appreciate your affinity for capturing the magic of water in the land. “the audible equivalent of light at the end of a tunnel” – exactly.

      I’m adding a link to one of your images of Slippery Rock Creek, McConnells Mill, since that is part of our local watershed too and this image often came to mind as I composed the first movement.

      • Lynn…to the extent that any of my images provided a scintilla of inspiration…well, I’m speechless.

        I’m really looking forward to hearing whatever part of the concerto you choose to share with us.

  11. Water. Something we are all learning cannot be taken for granted on this earth that we have so challenged. I hope you will be able to share Watershed with us all soon. Congratulations on its premiere!

    • Thank you, Audrey. You have been through feast and famine with water in California; even here, we can’t take it for granted but we generally have it in great supply. And yes, I hope to share some of “Watershed” once we record it – stay tuned 🙂

  12. Great pics and words. One learns to really appreciate H2O when spending time in the desert (like Niger). Even after returning, we still tend to take it for granted, unless lead pipes cause a problem! Thanks. Graham

    • Graham, I’ve always been uncomfortable in arid regions, even though I can appreciate their natural beauty. I would imagine that one is aware of water, or the lack of it, in Niger. The photo of Pine Creek was taken off of McKnight Road in the Arcadian plaza parking lot – we’re surrounded by it here!

  13. Best wishes for the premiere. I wish I could attend. Beautiful words to go with your beautiful images. I am learning a lot about and from water in this place that still feels new to me. You’ve reminded me, though, that no matter where I’ve lived, I often took the water for granted. I can’t do that here. Water sings and speaks and supports.

    • Ah, Robin, you are one who lives with water all around you and so often have communicated that through your writings and photos. I too have taken water for granted yet now, I’m hyper aware of it. I hope that attention continues, as it seems to have burrowed itself deep within my psyche.

  14. Having always been a water-baby, I can breathe so easily into your words, Lynn, feel the rhythms that inspire you, and follow the flow of your creek. My own spirit moves naturally with our own Crawfish River and, in dreams, I float with it into the Rock River and then the Mississippi, and travel on to the Gulf and the ocean beyond…and all the time, there’s evaporation and rain–or snow–and the dreams return and cycle ’round, but with new and different music. I love the way birds and other wildlife follow the water as well, and wish we valued its health so very much more than we do…but before I digress considerably, let me say how I can understand the spell your art holds and the attention it demands…I would soooo love to hear your concerto premiere and hope you’ll let us know how it went and felt for you. 🙂 Blessings and gentle peace.

    • Kitty, my fellow water-baby, it is always a delight to have you stop by. I haven’t talked about it but the livelier parts of the music were inspired by a series of wonderful dreams that I’ve had of riding the water of our streams down to the river. It is so fascinating to see the effects of the watersheds on not only the earth but on the imaginations of those who spend time near it. It seems to be a universal meeting ground between science, ecology and inner awareness. Once the piece is recorded and released, I will post excerpts here. Peace, my friend.

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