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The videos and sound recordings of the “Singing The Long Now” concert are now uploaded!
It was an extraordinary experience to prepare this material for performance, and to review it after the fact. Tufts University did a fine job with both audio and video, and I really enjoyed getting the pieces formatted and organized for this page. Please let me know your thoughts.
Needless to say, my most profound gratitude and love goes to the musicians:
Mimi Rabson — Violin, Voice
Helen Sherrah-Davies — Violin, Voice
Junko Fujiwara — ‘Cello, Voice
I’m presenting them all in order on this page, with some links to supplementary material as needed.
1. Hymn theme: “The Great Ocean Of Truth” / Raga Puriya Dhanashri: Alap, Khyal in 7 beats, Tarana in 12 beats.
Raga Puriya Dhanashri is usually meant for performance in the early evening. This suite of traditional Hindustani compositions is arranged for voice and string trio; the instrumental ensemble plays a redistribution of the standard accompaniment parts in support of vocal improvisation. The introductory alap is sung on open vowels and vocables, the medium-tempo khyal has a text in Braj (an archaic Hindi dialect) describing a scene from the life of Krishna, and the fast tarana is set entirely to non-lexical syllables.
2. A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall
Bob Dylan’s jeremiad is recomposed in Raga Mishra Dhani, the new melodic setting evoking both the apocalyptic surrealism of “Old Weird America” and the convoluted, polysemic language of the Urdu ghazal. The strings’ churning undercurrent hews to the basic 6-beat structure of the Hindustani Dadra taal, but can just as easily be heard as a group of rowdy country fiddlers.
3. “It’s Taken Me My Whole Life…”
This composition is built around the ritualized use of silence at different tempo levels. Every performer has a variety of pre-established melodic/rhythmic patterns, punctuated by extemporized “omissions” — this means that when (and how often) to be silent becomes the main focus of creative choice. Even segments of virtuoso free improvisation are built around the idea that the notes unplayed and unheard are the sweetest, the most expressive, the most crucial.
(Note: complete copies of the score and individual parts will be uploaded and posted within the next fortnight.)
4. Pete Seeger’s melodic setting of Malvina Reynolds’ lyrics (reflecting the words of the first astronauts to view our planet from space) is given a free rendering, with the strings providing a colotomic structure, timbrally aligned with the beautiful music of Sundanese tradition.
“From way up here, the Earth looks very small,
It’s just a little ball, of rock and sea and sand,
No bigger than my hand.
From way up here, the Earth looks very small,
They shouldn’t fight at all, down there,
Upon that little sphere.
Their time is short, a life is just a day,
You’d think they’d find a way,
You’d think they’d get along, and fill their sunlit days with song.
From way up here, the Earth is very small,
It’s just a little ball, so small,
So beautiful and dear.
Their time is short, a life is just a day,
Must be some better way,
To use the time that runs, among the distant suns.
From way up here.”
5. Man With Sign — For Speaking/Singing Voice and String Trio
A reading from my ongoing intersectional activism/performance project, now in its seventy-fourth week of rush hour mornings at Medford’s Roosevelt Circle.
6. “This Is A Composition Which Concerns Itself With Timescale”
Like Paris’ Centre Pompidou, this composition for intoning voices and instruments wears its infrastructure on the outside. To say anything more in these notes would be redundant, except to note that the complete texts of the spoken parts can be found here.
7. The Spider’s Web
E.B. White’s words, Pete Seeger’s melody — my arrangement of this love song is a kind of “folk minimalism,” using asynchronous repetition of simple melodic phrases to create background textures that allow the melodic line and its meaning to unfold.
“The spider dropping down from twig, unfolds a plan of her devising:
A thin, premeditated rig, to use in rising.
And on this journey down through space, all cool descent and loyal-hearted,
She builds a ladder to the place, from where she started.
Thus I, gone forth as spiders do, in spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you, for my returning.”
8. The great jazz innovator Ornette Coleman once remarked, “I wish people would play my tunes with different changes every time, so there would be all the more variety in the performance.” Whenever we approach Ornette’s music, we try to keep this in mind.
“What reason could I give to live?
Only that I love you.
How many times must I die for love?
Only when I’m without you.
Where will the world be, if not in the sky when I die?
What reason could I give to live?
Only that I love you.”
9. Ancient Light / Ab Hone Lagyo
A meditation on time, trees, and light — followed by a thumri composition in the morning raga Kalingda. Set to the slow 16-beat chachar tala, this song in Braj extols the beauty of the new morning light, the songs of birds, the effulgence of opening blossoms — a tender, optimistic meditation on possibility and the inevitability of rebirth.
10. The title of this piece references one famous quote from Isaac Newton, and the text is another equally well-known remark from the great scientist (here altered slightly in the interest of gender equity). The words are set to three different eleven-beat structures in medium, fast, and slow tempi.
“I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself I seem like a child playing on the seashore / diverting myself, now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell / while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”