text, respectively, by Emily Dickinson, Robert Burns, an anonymous source, and the US Constitutional Committee of Style and Arrangement
I: I Felt a Funeral in my Brain
Brazenly opposing the text from the outset, Dickinson’s poem of agony and despair is bastardized by simple joyousness and frivolity. Listen for:
•Shameless representations of laughter (ie. high registral piano, violin trills, and onomatopoeic laughter in the vocal part)
•”Anti-Text Painting”: When the word is “down,” the music goes up; “beating” is represented by music box sounds, and “silence” is… definitively not silent
•The use of the violin as an accompaniment instrument
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then
II: A Red, Red Rose
As sweet and romantic as the Dickinson poem is dark, Burns’ text is expressed through mechanical-sounding, unemotional, and sometimes atonal rigidity. Imagine a robot trying (and FAILING) to express love. Listen for:
•A rigid vocal line, designed to obstruct expressiveness
•”Sweetly played in tune,” which ends in an especially dissonant chord
•Repetitive statements of “Dies Irae,” the most popular medieval doomsday chant
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
III: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
This dopey children’s rhyme – the inspiration behind Opposite Day – is performed with severity and needless drama. Listen for:
•Relationships between the opening violin line and both the main vocal theme and “Catch a tiger…” violin part
•Depth and gravity provided by the piano tremolo on low B-flats
•Sweeping piano figures and melismatic vocal/violin lines, behaving as though the “Catch a tiger…” text is something profound
•Recitativo on “My mother…” for added drama
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
My mother says to pick the very best one,
and that is Y-O-U!
IV: The Preamble to the US Constitution
Perhaps all of this irreverence could be remedied with a little patriotism. Listen for:
•Again, frequent use of the violin as accompaniment – even omitting the piano for an extended section
•A quote from the beginning of Gustav Mahler’s 1st symphony (played in piano chords), and a chord progression inspired by Anton Bruckner’s 4th – referencing two red-blooded American composers
•Our National Anthem. Definitely.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
42:25 Improvisation - Illumine, Sean & Dave - "Old men, old friends sit on a park bench like book ends"
45:02 Improvisation - Frolicsome, in A
1:02:48 The Chimes of the Golden House – David Matthew Brown (2018)
text by the composer
In honor of the composer’s recently deceased grandparents, I. Eagle & Rita D. Levine, “Chimes” is a poetic tribute to their unconventional union that resulted in a large, joyous, and musical family. Adorning the house in which Eagle and Rita raised and partially raised their grandchildren, was a collection of 8-day mechanical clocks – each of which chimed at contrasting intervals and pitches. This, paired with Rita’s gilded decor aesthetic, was the atmosphere in which so many lifelong memories and relationships were established – and from which so much music originated. Listen for:
•Three distinct chimes: the Westminster chime of the steel tongue drum, the shrill chime of the triangle, and the oscillating chime of the piano
•A structure bookended by joyousness and rhythm, representing the energy of the house – and later, that of those homes belonging to Eagle’s and Rita’s descendants (“descendants of the vintage melody”)
•The static atmosphere created and in spite of dense orchestration during the line, “As dust, suspended…”
•A short fugue, leading up to the word, “counterpoint,” as the voice narrates – according to the poem – the entrance of each instrument, relevant to the instruments played by the family
•The use of the wooden backs of the drum mallets to create a colder, more stark effect during, “Stark bell tones…”
•The espressivo piano solo that concludes the piece, representing the composer’s mother (illumine pianist, Jodie), who – through her parents’ passing – inherits the mantle of matriarch. This is followed by eight bell tones for the eight grandchildren who grew up in the “Golden House”
Music begins as the hour is struck. Offset by age, a chorus of metal voices enters the discordant song of the inevitable. The heartbeat of the house tolls with many perspectives – some over, and others understated. Together, they are unlikely but beautiful. Unfettered by the perpetuity of the song, its audience – young and old, at play and at work – live joyously within its realm.
As dust, suspended in rays of sun through the window, a timeless serenity exists between the hours. Deep, golden afternoons could be memories or dreams – vivid sentiments of an ethereal world. If not for the swing of the pendulum, surely no time would pass.
And in this, the meaning of the song is obscured – for time does pass, and the song becomes increasingly beautiful. A piano joins, its own distinguished peal harmonizing – enlightening its predecessors. It beckons a procession of fiddles, then flutes, each bestowing new vitality – new meaning to the venerable music.
Enshrouded in a benevolent counterpoint, the song achieves the impossible.
So many years later, the instruments have departed from a house devoid of its once gilded hue. Stark bell tones now herald the hour in the predictable synchrony of solitude.
And yet, they are the heartbeats of new homes, each with its own unlikely, beautiful perspectives and colors. Descendants of the vintage melody revel as in olden times, enchanted by nostalgia.
The pendulum swings; voices come and go – but the chimes of the golden house are eternal.
1:13:54 S&DMM+Illumine Theme - Arr. David Mathew Brown (2018)