Watershed

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.

pinecreek

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.

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

Composer in the studio

Winter is here, snow making the garden lovely in a new way. This is the season of lines and shapes, the bones of the garden.

snowygate

The seeds and plants have been ordered while watching garden videos, the antidote to the bitter cold keeping me indoors. Zelda is sound asleep for the winter, adorned by a milky snow mustache. zeldasnow

Angel has been enjoying the snow in spite of the cold, running through the woods . . . angelsnowrun

alert to the sounds of birds and squirrels in the quiet days . . . angelsnowgarden

and trying to puzzle out why the snow is only on the south side of the trees. angelsnowtree

There have been days where my feet have not crossed the threshold into winter, as I have been in my music studio instead of the garden. The cello concerto is almost ready for rehearsals but so many details to complete! Someone asked me recently where I composed and on what instrument (thank you, Linda!), so perhaps many of you will find this of interest.

Composing begins for me with an idea that will work within the structure of the piece. I think about it for a long time, do extensive research and write many pages of notes. Often, I begin this process in what is perhaps my favorite room in the house, piano_rooma room lined with a wall of windows facing south where I can see the woods in all seasons. It is the closest I can be to nature and my garden while still being inside the house and is especially appreciated in winter when the light streams in and I can light a fire in the fireplace. Once the piece takes shape in my mind, I move from the cozy chairs to the piano. One of the great treasures of my life,  the piano is a Lindeman from the 1930’s and belonged to my Aunt June, who was a marvelous pianist. I spend evenings searching for the “soul” of the piece while improvising at the keys, finally sketching out musical themes and ideas with paper and pencil.

Armed with those notes, I move into my studio. A partially finished “bonus room” over the garage when we moved here, we eventually tricked out the room with a heating/cooling unit, added skylights and carpet and furnished it as my creative retreat to compose, to work on multimedia projects, and to just think. The music work station takes center stage and this is where I go to bring pieces to completion. Reference books on technology and orchestration line the bookshelves. Angel, ever my muse, sleeps next to me on the blanket on the floor or under the table.lynnstudio

Once I complete a section or movement, I retreat to my little sofa to listen to playback, marking rough drafts, taking notes. What works? What sounds unbalanced or incomplete? Putting some distance between me and the computer allows me to regain perspective from the minutia of putting notes to page and also encourages me to relax my back and neck from the inevitable computer strain. My first oil painting hangs on the wall and artwork of all kinds fill the space. lynnstudio2

In a few days, the score and parts will be complete and uploaded to the music librarian; rehearsals begin soon. I will share more about Watershed in my next post. In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy the stark beauty of the season.

 

The Light Returns

Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless. ~Terri Guillemets

solsticesunsetgateThe 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.treelights

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, free to fly away
I long to be so free ~Lynn Emberg Purse

youngrickMany 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.

rickworkshopRick 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.

Here’s a music video we recorded of Free, produced in 1984 by our friends at Eagle Vision Productions. (Words and Music by Lynn Emberg Purse©1982, All Rights Reserved)

Free, free, give me the wings of a bee
I long to be so free. ~Lynn Emberg Purse

 

Penn’s Woods: Autumn Equinox

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

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.

All text, music and video ©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Read more about the genesis of this project in Wild Sounds.

No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace,
As I have seen in one autumnal face. ~John Donne

A special thanks to Joan for pointing out that it is the autumn equinox rather than the autumn solstice.