Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless. ~Terri Guillemets
The winter solstice has arrived – every day from now on will be a little longer and a little brighter as the light returns. It is no wonder that we turn to celebrations of light at this time of year in the northern hemisphere with candles, yule logs, and lights on our Christmas trees.
Mother Nature celebrated the earth’s return towards the light in her own way. The early sunset of the winter solstice lit up the sky with colors ranging from tints of pink, yellow, and blue to fiery corals and golds blazing into the deepening night. It seemed fitting that the shortest day of the year provided the loveliest light. May your days be merry and bright in this season and the next.
The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination. ~Terri Guillemets
You can find some of my winter and Christmas music in the Christmas tab at the top of the page – happy solstice and Merry Christmas, everyone!
Free, free, free to fly away
I long to be so free ~Lynn Emberg Purse
Many years ago, my husband and I drove to Romney, West Virginia, to visit my brother Rick, who taught music at the West Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. Bill and I, as the group Aergo, had just recorded our first album of original music and my brother began using it with his students, many of whom suffered from emotional and behavioral difficulties in addition to their physical challenges. He taught the title song Free to his choir and they sang it for us; I watched my brother work miracles leading this choir of blind and deaf students – he tapped his foot, called out cues, waved his arms, and they sang straight from the heart. We had a wonderful day meeting with the students and sharing music; Rick told me that whenever they were upset, hearing our music always calmed them. It was clear that my brother loved teaching and had a genuine connection with his students.
Rick also loved being in nature and originally wanted to be a forest ranger; as kids, we were always taking long hikes in the woods, climbing trees, swinging from grapevines. He was a fine musician; he and my brother Jim and I were often recruited by my father to play instruments in the school band or sing in the church choir. He played tuba in marching band; he also repaired woodwind and brass instruments for a music company in Pittsburgh.
My brother Rick passed away this week, far too young at age 67. I dedicate this song Free to him and to his life. Big bro, now is the time to lift your feet off this ground and sail into the clouds.
If you look deep enough you will see music; the heart of nature being everywhere music. ~Thomas Carlyle
A few days ago, I made a presentation at a national music conference on my “A Year in Penn’s Woods” project. Having to encapsulate my work in 25 minutes pushed me to review what I’ve done so far, create a succinct presentation of my project, and produce a short video demonstrating some of my musical and visual ideas.
Wetland habitat, western Pennsylvania
Pressure can be useful for inner clarification; working on the presentation led me to review the hours of audio and video recorded so far, assess the quality of the work, and decide on technical and artistic refinements to the process. I originally expected this project to be completed in a year’s time, but have found that to be unrealistic. I’ve added another year to the timeline, but what I now realize is that I love doing this work and in actuality, I may be pursuing this project for many years to come. There is great joy in being in nature, listening to the sounds, seeing the beauty, and feeling deeply connected to the world around me. I’ve coined the music I am attempting to compose as “eco fusion” – the integration of the soundscape of the natural world with composed music.
Here is my first experiment in combining the sound of birds, insects, frogs, and other denizens of the western Pennsylvania habitats with visuals filmed during this year’s autumn equinox. The soundtrack music is designed to support and enhance nature’s orchestra without overwhelming it. While the musical pieces in “The Year in Penn’s Woods” project will vary from orchestral to small ensembles to electronic soundtracks, ultimately my goal is to be an interpreter of what I see and hear in nature, rather than to merely illustrate it. As I emphasized in my conference presentation, I want to join this band! I want to write for this orchestra! This is a first step. Enjoy! (Click on the video to play, or click on the Vimeo link to watch in full HD) If you have a problem viewing the Vimeo version, here is a link to a smaller mobile device friendly version on YouTube.
Arcadia – a region of ancient Greece that is “a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.” ~Wikipedia
Two weeks ago, Arcadian Tone Poems, a piece for tenor saxophone and orchestra was premiered. It is always an exciting event, to attend the public “unveiling” of something created in the privacy of my studio. A composition never seems complete until it is performed, and what a performance! Our marvelous Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra played with verve and skill under the direction of Jeffrey Turner and, as you will hear, James Houlik’s performance on saxophone is that of a master.
I was asked by the director to create something fun and accessible, with lots of variety in mood and tone color and to showcase the artistry of James, an extraordinary master of the classical tenor saxophone. Immediately the idea of writing a suite of tone poems came to mind, the perfect medium in which to explore the tonal colors of the saxophone and orchestra.
Evening in Arcadia by Thomas Cole
Tone poems, or symphonic poems, arose as a musical form in the 19th century Romantic era of music, and are “intended to inspire listeners to imagine or consider scenes, images, specific ideas or moods.” When searching for a way to feature the classical saxophone in an imaginary landscape, the idea of a pipe or horn being played in the wilderness suggested the role of the shepherd moving through the landscape and describing its beauty through music. “Arcadia is associated with bountiful natural splendor, harmony, and is often inhabited by shepherds” and so the idea for a suite of four tone poems was born.
The program notes from the premiere:
Written to showcase the saxophone artistry of virtuoso James Houlik, “Arcadian Tone Poems” is a series of aural impressions of the mythic land of Arcadia. Ancient Greeks envisioned a pastoral paradise of hills and valleys, mountains, streams, and forests, populated by the ancient gods. Imagine a contest of aerial acrobatics between birds over a meadow strewn with flowers, or a broad flowing river rushing through the mountains, carrying water sprites on the foam. Perhaps Pan, the ruler of Arcadia, is playing a haunting melody deep in a cathedral forest punctuated by columns of light, or Zeus and his sons amuse themselves with a dramatic game of throwing thunderbolts across the hills. Each movement is meant to be an imaginary stroll through a different aspect of this ancient paradise.
Here’s a montage of selections from each movement of Arcadian Tone Poems
Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September. ~lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, fromSeptember Song
Sweet Autumn Clematis
Those long summer evenings are gone, borne away on the boom and crack of violent thunderstorms. Perhaps a few more warm nights remain, filled with the summer songs of cicadas and frogs, but the weather is quickly changing to the cool short days of fall. It has been an odd summer – weather spinning from torrential rains and steamy days to the occasional stretch of dry sunny weather. Now the garden is filled with the sunny blooms of goldenrod and black-eyed susan; the last crop of cherry tomatoes glisten in shiny red cascades, and a giant cloud of fragrant white stars covers the sweet autumn clematis climbing up the fence and into the trees. All the creatures are busy filling their larders against the coming winter, from spiders bundling up yellow jackets caught in their webs to squirrels and chipmunks gathering acorns under the oak trees. The hummingbirds and most of the butterflies have headed south and flying V’s of geese are starting to follow them. Next week, the autumn solstice returns and summer will be truly gone.