Unsung Songs, Haiku: June 17-27 2012

Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad

Moderator: figaro

Post Reply
Posts: 535
Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2005 12:45 am
Location: Ithaca, NY

Unsung Songs, Haiku: June 17-27 2012

Post by figaro »

Image: The view from the Windgarth House dock at dawn, facing south.


Sunday, June 17

Another hot day, reaching in the eighties. Yesterday I stared out of the windows into the gardens and then decided to plunge in; drew up a twelve-tone row with all its inversions and retrogrades - i.e. the twelve-tone square. My violinist for the Images Cycle, William Hurley, had sent me a series of twenty-seven haiku poems and I agreed to write music for them. That was months ago, and I still have not even decided on instrumentation - or if there will be vocalists. Or how many of William's haiku poems I will use.

So today I took out some empty sheets of manuscript paper, propped them up on the piano rack in front of, on a volume of Brahms, sat down and started scribbling notes. Quite a few of them, an eighth-note triplet inner voice. And an opening melody, short, based on a motive, most likely for flute.

It has begun.

Monday, June 18

William's first haiku poem is:

Last scents of summer
Fold under new fallen leaves...
Sleep now, summer past.

The triplets should work nicely as a sort of lullaby, at least that is my intention... Today I am considering notating the rhythm, the meter, using the eighth note as the beat - 6/8, 9/8, 12/8. Instead of 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 etc.

Now I must also make decisions as to how many haiku of the twenty-seven I will set to music - and which ones. I had considered using several haiku for each musical setting - but have decided against that... Time to sit down with the text and choose. One must consider not only content, but variety, contrast. The dynamics of a cycle keep the music alive, vibrant... living... and music should touch different aspects of our very being, different chambers of our own hearts - both as the composer and as the listener. As deep as the composer reaches within, that is the depth the listener can reach within.

In composing music, as in interpretation (as a concert pianist) or in painting, writing - any of the creative arts - the main task is one of choice. As an artist we face infinite possibility... It is mainly a matter of picking and choosing - and then allowing those choices to unfold.

Wednesday, June 20

A very hot day, in the nineties. Waiting for Luke to start work on the stone steps leading to the basement. Looked out into the gardens, at the colors and textures, inwardly working on the Haiku cycle.

Yesterday I scribbled down a few pages of motives and passages for the piano. I seldom write for piano because the piano literature is so vast - we pianists really do not need new pieces to play. Whereas other instrumentalists would welcome music to work on, new music to perform and learn. However, for whatever reason, for this cycle of haiku poems I hear a piano part... Since much of the piano chamber literature is very difficult, I might write this piece more simply, so that more pianists can attempt it, enjoy the experience of playing chamber music. These are all ideas in my head at the moment - we'll see how the music manifests. Music has a life of its own, and the composer is not always consciously at the helm.

I also drew up another twelve-tone square, and intend to use both rows in this cycle. Generally I stay with one row, but the poems differ in tone and feeling to such an extent I think it would be better to use contrasting rows. I also intend to use the rows loosely, as I often have in the past. I become more and more tonal as I grow older...

Wrote more notes today. Covered several pages of manuscript paper with ideas - some notes in pencil with thin crooked stems, other notes and chords without stems or rhythms. The ideas come in so fast, sometimes there is hardly time to scribble them all down... If I wait to notate them exactly, often before I am done with a few measures the ideas are gone, they evaporate back to wherever thoughts come from. So I have learned to sketch the music down as quickly as I can, almost like a pencil sketch, a drawing.

At this stage of writing, I am more trying to discover the potentials hidden within the two new rows I have chosen. A treasure hunt of sorts. And I am always amazed at how much lies within any given tone row... Endless combinations are possible, endless sounds... Melodies and harmonies emerge where I least expect them...

Today a beautiful melody and a few new motives. Soon there will be hundreds and hundreds of notes strewn on pages of manuscript paper, ready to be organized and strung together. Often I write as I go, from beginning to end - but this time, possibly because of the number of instruments, or because I have not written music in so many months, the ideas are coming in fragments, beautiful and exciting fragments. When this happens I know that later the ideas will come in very, very fast, in torrents... Torrents of notes and ideas, a happy flood. Already when I look within I can see and feel the entire cycle forming, the music for all the poems I have chosen, will choose...

Thursday, June 21

Another scorching day, in the nineties. Luke continues his work on the basement steps, a rubble of dirt and broken stone on the flagstone path. A phone message from my harpist, Myra Kovary: she wants to start work on the Song Cycle. I wrote it for her many years ago, now I cannot even remember what instruments I scored it for. The main problem will be finding the musicians - especially the singers. We will need a baritone and a soprano, and they must have a good sense of pitch. Will call Graham Stewart and see if he is free. And then the problem of setting up rehearsals they can all attend - and to find the money to pay them with. I must be getting old, it all seems daunting.

My original plan was to finish writing this new Haiku cycle and then record it and the Piano Quintet in the fall or winter.

Now my thoughts and plans are a bit of a jumble, much like the basement steps...

Saturday June 23

The weather has cooled finally; M. and I went to Stewart Park mid-morning today, before her errands and my work began. A clear sunny day, in the low seventies; the sailboats were out, white against the dark blue water. Windy, waves everywhere... Clouds forming changing pictures along the horizon, today Russian domes... I stood in the sun and walked briefly - re-injured my ankle working in the gardens the other night, so am using the brace and a crutch again. The horizon a taste of Infinity...

Wrote more notes today, sketches. Decided to have solo Haiku sections for the various instruments - either strewn throughout the cycle or starting the cycle - in this second option I would add on instruments until they are finally all playing together towards the end of the cycle. The solos might start unaccompanied, possibly various combinations of instruments throughout. I plunged in without much thought, sometimes it is the only way. Other times I have seen/heard the score inwardly before starting to write - but this time there was nothing conscious for me to look at or hear. As I write ideas come, possibly memories of something already inwardly written. Creating is always a Mystery.

Also thought about the haiku form, 5/7/5 syllables - and now trying to find a way to musically work that in. Not in terms of meter or rhythm, the most obvious - or the number of measures in a phrase, also obvious - but something more subtle. At the moment I intend to set the first ten of William's haiku to music. Had I chosen - of his haiku, I could have broken them up 5/7/5... No, I will have to find another way, possibly how many times the instruments appear as soloists. Listeners will not realize what I have done, nor will most musical theorists who later analyze what I have written, if any of them - but on a deep level everyone will know, and it will serve to add depth and clarity to the overall form and coherence of the cycle.

In short: without someone strong at the helm, things can get very complicated and very incoherent very quickly.

Tuesday, June 26

Luke finished the basement stone steps yesterday; paid him. Unlike Luke, I have not finished this Haiku cycle, but continue to sketch out various motives and passages.

Wednesday, June 27

We have Windgarth this week, no renters, so we have been staying there. Last night a cold, dark night, silent except for the sound of the waves - the moon behind me cut in half in the sky, hovering beyond Windgarth, over the small untraveled road that separates us from the winery gardens and vineyards. Walked down by the water, stood alone on the dock and gazed at the giant dome of sky - lights across the lake, faint clouds above, row after row of them... Then the black sky and brilliant stars. Some constellations I knew well, others were new to me, and I was struck by the wonder of the fixed stars as though I had never seen them, never gazed at a night sky... My first thought was to somehow bring that beauty and wonder and infinity into my writings, into my music... And I remembered as a child playing with my best friend's toy, the small plastic ball that when lit threw the wonder and infinity of the stars out onto the walls of her bedroom...
Post Reply