Open the Book of What Happened

Carolyn Forché's masterful poem On Earth provides the basis for my piece. The poem chronicles the journey of a mind passing through life, and as such, is quite long. I have excerpted small portions of the poem (with the author's permission, I hasten to add), to form a brief sonic glimpse of this journey. The poem readily lends itself to this treatment since it consists of individual lines and sometimes single words of brilliant imagery - less a narrative than a chronicle of what the German poet Novalis called 'the lost presence beyond appearance'. The poem unfolds as an abecedary (where the individual lines are arranged in alphabetical order), modeled on ancient gnostic hymns, and I have retained that structure in the lines I have used. Along with the beauty of the writing, it is this formal patterning that attracted me to the text.

Musical considerations suggested a larger grouping of lines into the three contrasting movements of the piece, each with its own character as stated in the movement titles. As a way of relating text to the music, I originally limited my choices to lines that began with the letters of the musical scale: “A” through “G”, with bit of “cheating” to include lines beginning with “H” (the German musical nomenclature for b-natural). There is one departure from this “procedure” at the end of the last movement: two lines beginning with the letter “I”, which are spoken rather than sung - an example of an artistic choice that departed from the original plan, but simply “felt right”.

I am grateful to the MacDowell Colony for providing both the physical and mental space to create this work. Open the Book of What Happened was composed there during my fellowship in the fall of 2005. Uninterrupted and unfettered creative time as provided by the Colony is a gift beyond measure, and it must be acknowledged.