Archers of Solitude (2007, 20'). Commissioned by James Preiss.
for soprano, clarinet, marimba, and percussion sextet on texts by Wendall Berry. Each of the four songs is preceded by a prelude that sets the timbral and expressive mood of the text. The percussionists surround the audience and use sounds of nature such as running water, whirling tubes, and bird calls. The score has some improvisation and indeterminate notation. A lyrical and moving work. Commissioned by James Preiss, premiered by Tonal Center and the Mannes Percussion Ensemble (NYC).
For a long time I have been very attracted to the timbral and expressive possibilities of the human voice combined with percussion instruments. I was therefore enthusiastic when percussionist James Preiss approached me with the idea of commissioning a work for Tonal Center, a chamber ensemble comprised of soprano, clarinet and marimba, plus a larger percussion ensemble. I immediately knew that some of Wendell Berry's poems would be perfect for this project. His work, lyrical, subtle, and very moving, has always struck me as being intensely spiritual, especially in its emphasis on our connection to the natural world. I envisioned the work as a kind of concerto grosso in the Italian Baroque tradition, with each of the four poems, assigned to the trio of soprano clarinet and marimba, preceded by a prelude performed by the percussion ensemble. Each prelude sets the musical and emotional mood for the following piece, and the atmosphere reflects the words of the poem. The four movements for the trio can also be performed separately, without the percussion ensemble, as a smaller, more intimate chamber work. I have also used several unorthodox sounds and extended techniques, such as water and sounds of nature (bird calls and cricket call and whirling tubes). The compositional techniques employed involve indeterminate notation and guided improvisation, and a mixture of tonal and atonal elements. "Archers of Solitude" is dedicated to James Preiss.
I: TO KNOW THE DARK
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
Willing to die,
you give up
your will, keep still
by what moves
all else, you move.
III: FALLING ASLEEP
Raindrops on the tin roof.
What do they say?
We have all
Been here before.
IV: THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“To Know the Dark”, “Poem”, “Falling Asleep” and “The Peace of Wild Things” from COLLECTED POEMS: 1957-1982 by Wendell Berry, Copyright 1985 by Wendell Berry. Used by arrangement with North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.