The Unsung Songs: The Storm: May 29-June 8, 2007

Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad

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The Unsung Songs: The Storm: May 29-June 8, 2007

Post by figaro » Sat Jul 14, 2007 3:39 pm

Song: The Storm: A Composer’s Journal Entries: May 29 - June 8, 2007


Image: The Point, down the road from Windgarth

Tuesday, May 29
Windgarth House

No waves today. Only the birds, the moon & the haze of the distant hills. Worked in the gardens, M. helped. Fairly overgrown, we haven’t been to Windgarth in two weeks. Still working on The Storm, revising. Working in the gardens should clear my mind - I still have many pages to go in the fourth song. This song is very tonal, surprisingly tonal - with a hint of Mahler.

Wednesday, May 30
2:30 p.m.

Woke this morning & went to the piano. Looked at the words and decided to eliminate the musical repeat of the storm. Which means I will use the back of many pages of the original score for scrap paper or letters to friends. The overall form of The Storm is tighter now, more powerful: in this revision, the storm more or less continues until the last few pages, when the baritone reflects on his life with the woman he has loved for so many years. As in the original score, this song ends softly, with eighth notes in the harp playing a gentle repeated pattern. I also took out almost half of the words of the second stanza. Now the song ends with the words: “The life we have shared so easily, so sweetly”.

The revision is now sketched out, even though some pages are missing. I will begin writing the missing passages of The Storm tonight or tomorrow. Will musically borrow from the first stanza, to give cohesion, & have already decided on triplets in the bass & other lines as the storm grows wilder. There is still much to do.

I had to ask myself if cutting so many words & pages of the original score was just laziness or fatigue - but the inner answer is a firm no. Undoubtedly, many people might prefer the first version - but the decision has been made. And I am pleased.

And exhausted.

Thursday, May 31

JF & I went to the Amish to buy flowers, geraniums for the window boxes; then to the Winery across from Windgarth for a snack. Thunder, a storm coming over the vineyards. Then rain and the storm hovering over the lake. Worked in the gardens, got drenched.

Friday June 1
2 a.m.

Quickly sketched out the few remaining missing passages of The Storm & will begin copying out the score tonight or tomorrow.

Worked with Myra tonight until midnight or so. Asked her to play the opening of Sailboats, so that I could begin to copy out the main score. I needed to know if what I had written was playable - and how fast it could be played on the harp. If the tempo remained slower, the voice parts would have to change rhythmically. After some work & discussion, we managed to get Sailboats up to 84 for the quarter note, & frankly I was speechless - I have never heard anything like it coming from the harp. Just beautiful. Decided I would write a piece for solo harp in the same style, using similar patterns. Might write it in the style of a Chopin Etude for the piano, i.e. continue the motive throughout. Possibly a cycle of three pieces, & I jotted some ideas down on a scrap of paper.

Saturday, June 2
Windgarth House

Hot & humid; stayed inside for some hours, copying out The Storm. Worked on the big table in the front downstairs room that overlooks the lake. Spread out the score, the scissors & ruler, pens, glue stick & extra sheets of empty ms paper on the table; put the revised score I was creating on a wooden chair next to me. A robin came & perched himself on the edge of the picnic table, looking in my direction. Looked again & he was gone. M. came in from outside, hung a new set of replacement window shades on the downstairs door & then - a glass of water all over the old score. Decided to take a break while the score dried. Completed copying out the first ten or eleven pages of the finished score today.

M. & I then spent a good hour or more filling the front window boxes with geraniums & petunias & lobelia. Rows of flowers still in their cardboard flats, waiting for homes in the gardens & hanging planters & other planter boxes. The colors are breathtaking when they are all waiting together, huddled in their flats. A forest of hollyhocks has sprung up, to the south of the downstairs door. They are already almost waist high.

A light, intermittent cooling rain. Myra showed up in the late afternoon, she & Laura were playing a wedding across at the winery. We chatted as I worked in the vegetable garden, planting red onions & more lettuce. Told her I was thinking of writing a cycle of solo pieces for the harp & ran some ideas by her. We agreed that the harp literature is still fairly untapped, & I reiterated that I am trying to expand the existing harp technique. We agreed that I would sketch the pieces out & then we would try the patterns out on the harp together, to make sure they were playable. She is returning to New York City on Monday.

More storms are predicted for next week; a good week for copying out
The Storm.

Tuesday, June 5th
3 a.m.

Am in the process of filling hanging baskets for the back gardens here in town. The wheelbarrow is full of flowers, the back steps; the slate stepping stones are filled with either hanging baskets full of flowers or empty baskets. The colours are just astounding, so rich & deep ... Even at night I can gaze at them, the outdoor spotlight - onto them.

Almost half way through copying out the revised score of The Storm. So many little note heads & stems strewn across the pages. A forest.

Thursday, June 7

We have tenants coming for the weekend, so we worked in the gardens, trying to weed and sculpt out some empty spaces around the roses, around the wooden bench, around perennial expanses so that the gardens are not just a vast wall of green. Some pink & red poppies are blooming, iris, allium on their slender & frail stalks, bachelor buttons ... But now that the spring flowers are gone, the gardens are fairly bare of colour. Planted a new flowerbox, down by the lake; staked all the fallen iris. In the low seventies, a good breeze - waves. Very few yellow jackets. Kaile came & mowed. At dusk I finally stood on the dock & thought about The Storm. A few words with Larry. He repeated that we can spend time with him & use his dock when Windgarth is rented, the weeks we rent out the entire house. M. & I walked to the Point before coming back to town & met the woman who lives down the road & owns the sheep. The new sheep’s name is Charity; the woman said Colin is much happier since Charity arrived. Tragically, Charity was initially headed for the chopping block. The Point was gentle tonight; a soft haze, a pale pink sky.

Friday, June 8
11:45 a.m.

Nearing the end of The Storm. At this point it is a maze of revisions, pencil marks everywhere, pages crossed out, pages added. The most pressing decision now is whether to let the musical storm abate or not as the baritone sings the words “We cannot see the path before us”, in the second stanza. In terms of musical & poetic imagery, the storm should continue. But at some point in this second stanza, I want the baritone to become totally immersed in his own thoughts & in his love for his wife. The question is: when? The score is waiting for me downstairs, & I must decide. It cannot be solely a philosophic decision; musically it must also make sense. On the other hand, musically I am continually experimenting with & changing existing musical forms.

Earlier, the youngest cat, Oleg, had a battle with a bug who I was able to rescue & put outside. If only all decisions were that clear ...

2:30 a.m.

Finished copying out the revision of The Storm. I am tired. The main score is over thirty pages long. I decided to end the storm earlier, but then gave a short hint of it again before the serenity of the final pages, where the storm entirely disappears in the mind of the singer. I have kept the last words: “Are you thinking of the life we have shared so easily, so sweetly”. One final question remains: whether to let the harp play the final melody - or give it to the flute. I will wait until the first run-through rehearsals to decide.

I will take some days rest before starting to copy out the revisions to Sailboats. When all the Unsung Songs revisions are done I will either orchestrate Trois Prieres - or begin run-through rehearsals of Images and the Songs, to check the revisions. Just now I am leaning towards tossing out the final song of the Unsung Song cycle, The Feather. It is so similar in style to Sailboats, I am not certain it is needed. Maybe I will play through The Feather tonight & see what all those pages of little notes are saying .... The text would complete Sailboats: but now I am wondering if that is enough reason to keep it in the cycle. Or perhaps I am just too tired to see clearly ... M. was horrified & said: “Don’t you dare throw it out.”

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