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.

 

Endings and Beginnings

The past few months have brought many changes into my life, some satisfying, some sad, and some hopeful. I’ve been locked in my studio for weeks, completing a cello concerto, and only coming out on occasion to wrap up the school semester. The concerto is complete, the cellist loves the music and now I only need to finish the orchestration and score work. More about Watershed in future posts.

MissPhylMy mother-in-law Phyllis passed away peacefully at the end of October, at home among her family. We honored her with a celebration of her life and held a burial ceremony for both her and my husband’s father during Thanksgiving week. It was both sad and joyful, and a good friend played taps beautifully at the cemetery.

 

 

 

The garden is quiet now, sleeping for the winter, all soft browns and grays.decGarden

My attention has turned indoors for the holidays, a season where we bring the outdoors in and celebrate the bounty of the season with food and gifts. I’m decorating the house this weekend and preparing to feed twenty people on Christmas Day, a gathering of family from near and far. As I took photos of the “woodland” tree in our family room, I thought of the recurring themes of food and bounty and gifting that is so prevalent in many cultures as the seasons turn at the winter solstice and return the light to the northern hemisphere. By whatever name you call him, whether St. Nick, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle, he endures as an archetypal figure of bounty, largess, and generosity. santa

So often, he is portrayed with fruit, berries, and green leaves, the embodiment of growth and life. santa2

Our family room looks into the woods and the Christmas tree there is decorated with a woodland theme, of birds, creatures, even a glass rose – a stylized reminder of the garden and the woods that surround us all year round. (Click on any photo to view full size images)

In 2011, we made a musical Christmas card for friends and family. When our world seems so filled with strife and division, it seems fitting to return to that video for a message of love and family, as well as a photo of my in-laws at 1:55.  

Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, may it be a celebration of love, forgiveness, compassion and hope. As this year comes to an end and the new one begins, I wish every good thing for you and yours.

(All photos ©2017 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved)

Gold in Its Pocket

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons. ~Jim Bishop

goldoakleaves

Cold nights finally arrived this week and transformed the trees and shrubs around the garden and through the woods. Green is giving way to gold and bronze and red, filtering the already golden light through a stained glass canopy of warm colors. It is one thing to view the fiery colors from open ground and another entirely different experience to walk beneath them. I feel as if I am in a new world seen through a new lens.

oakleaves

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonize. ~George Eliot

herbtreesfallEverywhere I turn, most of the green beneath my feet and above my head has been changed out to a new color scheme. The morning has been a constant shift between hesitant sunshine and spats of rain and every surface is saturated and rich with color.

“And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days…”
~ Dylan Thomas

(click on any photo in the mosaics to enlarge)

A few flowers continue to bloom, offering rich color and the last bits of food to pollinators.

Some of the garden faces are still smiling.

Angel and I make the rounds several times a day – not only are the colors beautiful but the autumn earth is rich with scents. “At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth.” (Rilke)

The leaves are beginning to fall as the rain begins again; it won’t be long before the trees are bare and this glorious color is a memory. “Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.” (Chad Sugg)
autumngate

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ~George Eliot

All photos and text ©2017 Lynn Emberg Purse except where noted; All Rights Reserved.

Autumn Light

I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The American Notebooks

As our world spins on its tilted axis through October, every morning becomes a wonderment of autumn light. Golden rays slant through the trees at sharp angles, throwing shadows and highlights that transform the familiar into the magical. reflectingpool

After a hot dry September and a warm early October, the trees are still green and just beginning to turn colors. Lately, days of sunshine and blue skies have brought the feeling of a second summer to the garden even as copper oak leaves begin to drift down into the beds. The warm colors linger on in the coleus and coral bells, still thriving before first frost. (Click on any photo in the mosaic to see a larger image)

A few fall flowers carry on, greatly appreciated by the bees for a final feast before winter, while newly planted pansies should continue through the spring.

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

Some of the rose bushes are bearing hips, softened by the weather, while others continue to blossom in their final flush of color. Every day that a rose blooms in October seems like a precious gift.

The late October sun rarely shines above the trees in the lower garden and so the garden changes in mood throughout the day as the light sifts through the woods. autumngarden

Sometimes it throws a spotlight on favorite spots or favorite plants.

Sometimes it merely softens all of the colors into muted beauty.

softcircles

Step outside for a moment and enjoy the glories of a sunlit autumn day, the grand finale before winter arrives.soredereschtlight

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale. ~Lauren DeStefano, Wither

All photos and text ©2017 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved, except where noted