Father Christmas: A Musical Christmas Card

We have long considered creating an online musical Christmas card instead of sending paper cards and Christmas letters; this is the year that it happens.  “Father Christmas” was composed from a dream that my husband had of his father.  Bill handed me the text and music for the chorus, I completed the text and music for the verses and bridge and scored it for keyboards and percussion.  Our friend Judy joined us to record it for the “Christmas at Duquesne, Vol. 2” CD.  Now we would like to share the video version with our friends and families as our Christmas greeting this year.  May the blessings of love and peace be with you throughout the coming year. Enjoy!

Father Christmas Lyrics
©2008 Lynn & Bill Purse, All rights reserved

Father Christmas, Father Time
Mother Earth in ancient rhyme
Help the angels sing your name
I’ll see you Father, once again

Christmas seen through childish eyes
Glitter gold and treasures prized,
and yet around each childish heart
the warmth of love and family start

A world of sorrow, a world of pain,
a world in which there seems no gain.
But nonetheless, remember this,
a world was won by a child of grace

Looking back on memories, I see the joy of family
A father’s love, a mother’s joy for all their children, girl and boy

Fathers, mothers, listen now
Sisters, brothers, make this vow
to love each other on this earth
and share the bonds of love and mirth

Lynn Emberg Purse, vocals and keyboards; Bill Purse, vocals and percussion, sound engineer and producer; Judith Bowman, keyboards. A special thanks to my niece and great niece Jessica and Olivia and to my mother and my husband for allowing me to film them, and to Michael for providing the red rose.

Soundtrack on the “Christmas at Duquesne, Vol. 2” CD available at the Duquesne University’s Mary Pappert School of Music, 412-396-6080.  All proceeds go towards scholarships for Duquesne University music students.

Another Christmas music post that you may enjoy – Keeping Christmas

Text and media of “Father Christmas: A Musical Christmas Card” ©2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Sketches of America

Last night, the Washington Symphony Orchestra performed “Sketches of America” as part of their “Picture This” concert. Under the creative and enthusiastic guidance of Music Director Yugo Ikach, the WSO is a community orchestra, which means that the majority of the musicians are volunteers and participate for the love of performing music.  “Sketches” was originally written for and performed by the Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra featuring professional soloists, including reknowned jazz trumpeter Sean Jones.  I wanted to hear how the WSO would perform the piece, with very little input from me other than the written score.  Would it work?

The title “Sketches of America” was a play on Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”  which itself was a jazz interpretation of Rodriguez’s Adagio movement of the “Concierto de Aranjuez.” I was commissioned to create an orchestral piece that would include a section for jazz improvisation by the soloists, a somewhat daunting task in orchestral writing.  My own goals were more complex – I wanted to draw on American musical traditions as well as musically reflect on my love of the American landscape.  The strains of “America the Beautiful” kept running through my head as I was composing, and a few fragments of the melody crept into the piece as well.

The first section of the piece, “the painted desert” draws on minimalism, a uniquely American approach to “concert music” typified by composers like Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and John Adams. Inspired by a long November drive through the deserts of Arizona, a panorama of grey skies, yellow flowering shrubs, and tumbleweed, I remember a vast quiet world marked by the rhythmic turn of the car wheels. (The full version of “The Painted Desert” was used in my “Autumn Minimalism” post, in the video soundtrack)

That repeating rhythm segues into the syncopation of “a joyful blues” – another American musical tradition in the form of jazz and blues. Not content to write the traditional twelve bar blues in 4/4, I constructed a thirteen bar blues in 5/8 meter over which the solo trumpet and trombone improvise to the fast rhythms of  the pizzicato strings. Those seemingly odd numbers are part of the Fibonacci number sequence, something that occurs throughout the natural world in the form of flowers, seashells, and trees

“Sketches” closes with a chorale style section based on “Clay”, a song that I wrote in response to my efforts to dig and amend the clay in my garden. One of the lyrics, “. . . the solid ground beneath our feet” became a metaphor for the natural beauty of our vast country and the challenge of keeping it “America the beautiful.”

The WSO performance?  Wonderful. The piece worked, the orchestra sounded great, the soloists rose to the challenge, and the effect was just as I had intended.  That moment of hushed silence in the hall at the close of the piece, the sign that the audience was listening and involved, seemed more important than the applause that followed. Those of you who are composers know that this does not always happen!  As my husband and colleague remarked later, “the piece played itself.”  It was an unexpectedly moving experience and I was touched to the heart, and at that moment, I was very glad indeed to be a composer.

(The recordings above were taken from the premier of “Sketches of America” performed by Sean Jones, trumpet, and Ed Kocher, trombone, with the Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sidney Harth.)

All music and text in “Sketches of America” ©2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Still Point

. . . just as a violin string’s different vibrations produce different notes, energy strings’ unique vibration patterns correspond to different subatomic particles.  If this picture is correct, all of physics can be summarized as the harmonies of tiny vibrating strings, chemistry as the melodies of interacting strings, and the universe as a symphony of all strings resonating distinctly. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics, on String Theory

Physics of sound. Physics of the universe. Both attempt to describe and define how the world moves and vibrates. Molecules of air bump into each other, creating patterns and waves of sound, very similar to the way that water moves.  When I was asked to write a piece to celebrate the dedication of a new performance space and audio recording suite in our music school, it seemed appropriate to focus on how sound works and how musicians gather together to “play” with sound, whether on the stage or in the studio.

But this piece was also intended to commemorate the son of the benefactor, as well as the mother for whom the Music School was named.  Tragically, the grandmother and grandson had both died relatively young and had never met.  The school and this new space was the connection between them, a musical connection across time and space. It struck me that the physics of sound could be extended into the quantum and string physics theories that I had been reading and studying for a number of years.  There was a congruency of language used to describe our universe in motion, elegant and apt.  So, through the lens of a musician who works daily with the physics of sound and also pursues a layperson’s understanding of quantum physics, I wrote “Still Point.”  Written for choir, two synthesizer keyboards, and an electronic wind instrument, the piece was premiered a year ago this week.

Live performance recorded at the dedication of the Dr. Thomas D. Pappert Center for Performance and Innovation, Mary Pappert School of Music, Duquesne University. Sung by the Voices of Spirit under the direction of Christine Jordanoff, EWI solo by Mike Tomaro.

“Still Point”
©2010 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Still point, still point
Like a pebble in a pond, a word was sung
and hung in silence until the world began.

Still point, still point
First sound from whose center came the waves.
The ripples of vibration that set the world in motion, in motion

A universe of motion, a coherent dance of sound
Form and pattern rising from a sea of possibility
Each sound becomes a pebble dropped, each note becomes a wave
Each resonance of harmony intensifies a place
where ripples and waves intersect, time and space fold, connect
through generations never met into a
still point, still point

Music, sound, harmony
Resonant frequencies
Gathering communities, communities who play with sound,
who ride its waves, explore the pool creation’s made
Perhaps in hope to hear an echo of that still point
From which a word was sung and hung in silence until the world began.
Still point.

For a detailed look at the connections between music and quantum physics, see “The Birth of the Blues: How Physics Underlies Music” from the IOP Science/IOP Publishing

All text, video, and music ©2010, 2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved