Saturday, March 14, 2009

Flowing Pens from Concord

Composer Roger Cichy was inspired by the writings of four of Concord’s greatest authors to write a four-movement piece for concert band based on his interpretation of his feelings about these writings and the places associated with them. As with so many artists in the past, Cichy felt it necessary to travel to Concord to “come up with ideas” and to “get the feel of the place.” He visited Walden Pond, saw the cabin where Thoreau lived, saw the flute that Thoreau had played at Walden; visited Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott had lived and had written Little Women; saw the desk that her father had built for her; he went to the Old Manse and looked at the surrounding orchards and gardens and river. He wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the places, as well as read the words written by the four authors.

Cichy wanted there to be contrasts between all of the movements, from the more light-hearted attributes of the very young Little Women to the more all-encompassing thoughts about nature. The words he used to describe the entire piece were: “integrated, interconnected, perceiving things as a whole; so that the audience hears an overall integrated blend.” He said the audience members don’t even have to know all the details of either the words of each book or the compositional process, but he hopes they will be moved by the music itself, the variety in the different movements, and the overall integration of the piece.

The Old Manse is an “icon” in Concord, says Cichy, and he wrote a musical description not only of the Manse but also of the surrounding area: the orchards, gardens, willow trees, and river, which he feels are as much a part of the Manse as is the building itself. And he read the words by Hawthorne and thought about the “ghosts of the people who’d been there before,” since people who had inhabited the Manse had left old sermons, letters, and other writings there once they left. So his music speaks to both the iconic building and the writings by Hawthorne, his philosophies about life and nature.

When working on Little Women, Cichy would read a chapter, then compose, then read another chapter or two, then compose some more. In this movement he imagines the Alcott sisters when they were very young, with a lightness about them, before they became mature women. Cichy was amazed to learn that in 19th century Concord, it was not commonplace for women to have desks on which to write; and so Bronson Alcott built a desk for his daughter, Louisa May (Jo in Little Women); Cichy was surprised to see how small a desk it was, and was amazed at how much glorious writing had come from it.

Walden by Thoreau emphasizes how the author tried to simplify his life by living at Walden Pond, which inspired the slow movement of Cichy’s piece. This movement is all about the serenity in Thoreau’s Walden and his attempts to be at peace with the natural world. Cichy said he was also intrigued by the fact that Thoreau brought a flute with him to Walden Pond (which flute is now in The Concord Museum) and, thus, Cichy wrote a lovely flute solo in this movement.

Even though Emerson is perhaps better known for his writings on philosophy, Cichy chose his essay on “Nature” and admitted this was the most challenging movement of Flowing Pens from Concord for him to write. In this movement he used a “freer interpretation of this work,” based on the philosophy of nature, on how one perceives things, how one looks at things as a whole. This idea of integration is most pertinent in this movement, and reflects both the compositional techniques he used and the overall spirit of the music. Cichy said that a concert band, even though it is a large ensemble of 65 members with 34 individual parts written for it in this piece, should be thought of as a single ensemble, and he worked to blend all those 34 parts into one unified whole. Ultimately the audience hears a blended “whole” piece of music and not just a variety of individual parts. For example, Cichy said, the percussion parts are an integral part of the overall rhythmic and musical scheme, not just providing rhythm as background. Their parts are all integrated with the others, interconnected into the overall blend. And this is very much in the spirit of Emerson’s writings on “Nature.”

(Source: Roger Cichy)