Charm Against Loneliness

(2016) for flute, Bb clarinet, A clarinet, bassoon, tuba, 3 percussion, cello, voice

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church. One of my favorite parts of the service was when we would do what was called “responsive readings.” These were readings of Bible verses or texts in the back of the hymnal that were read collectively, alternating between the pastor and the congregation. I always found these compellingly odd, as they were not the norm in the service and were such a different means of interaction from singing. I was always fascinated by unintentional speech artifacts and patterns that would emerge as we would read the text.

When I was asked to collaborate with a poet, my first thought was to try and imitate that sound of reading, though an interaction between speaker and musical instruments. The resulting piece is an elaboration on the spoken text of the poem and an echo of both the spoken sounds and avian imagery of the poem. In order to do this, I experimented with alternative playing techniques for all of the instruments to make them more speech-like. Through a mapping of the alphabet to fingering patterns or physical actions on the various instruments, the musicians— playing without mouthpieces, reeds, or drumsticks—find their normally well-defined sounds transformed into something more like gestures that produce quiet, speech-like fragments.