Monday, September 26, 2011

A Poor Wayfaring Stranger in Indonesia

Originally, the composer Jody Diamond was featured in a blog entry which unforuntately was lost, I just discovered, apparently due to a technical mishap. I'll be reconstructing the blog, with an interview with Jody, along witha discussion of Indonesian gamelan music, which is the idiom in which the song is presented, in the near future. For the moment, here is the complete composition featured in our radio program: Jody's setting of the well-known Appalachian song in a composition for gamelan, "In That Bright World."

Here are the lyrics, which begin about 2:45 into the recording.

I'm just a pooor wayfaring stranger
A-trav'llin' through this world of woe
And there's no sickness, no toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go

I'm goin' there to see my father
I'm goin' there no more to roam
I'm just a-goin' over Jordan
I'm just a-goin' over home

I'm goin there to see my mother
She said she'd meet me when I come
I'm just a-goin' over Jordan
I'm just a-goin' over home

I'm goin' there to seek the spirit
Of the song that's in my soul
I'm just a-goin' over Jordan
I'm just a-goin' over home

The recording is on New World Records (no. 80698--their Website is here), and is used with permission of the composer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Steve Reich' discusses "WTC 9/11" on NPR

photo by Wonge Bergmann, used with permission

As noted below, WTC 9/11", composer Steve Reich's original composition commemorating the events surrounding the attack on the World Trade Center ten years ago, was featured on Sunday's Weekend Edition of All Things Considered on NPR. As promised, here is the complete text of the feature, entitled "First Listen: Steve Reich, 'WTC 9/11'', by Anastasia Tsioulcas. As the writer notes, the initials WTC refer not only to the World Trade Center, but also to the composer Johann Sebastian Bach's major set of keyboard compositions, The Well-Tempered Clavier, as well as the conceptual phrase, "Beyond This World", which carries myriad spiritual connotations.

We are also fortunate to have on NPR a recorded narrative by the composer himself on the origins of the piece. (The streamed recording is also accompanied by an excellent article by Anastasia Tsioulcas that I had not seen before summarizing the interview below, but fortunately, there is only moderate duplication.)

Reich explains that the first movement draws from the official audio recordings of the New York City Fire Department and of the city's Air Traffic Controllers, as well as of his friends and neighbors. He says he followed one structural principle throughout--to extend the last syllable of the spoken phrase, and he speaks "of building up these textures of the memories, or the vapor trails of what people had said, and connect them harmonically."

The second movement draws on the spoken words of his friends and neighbors nine years after the event, captured on a digital recorder whose sonic clarity contrasts starkly with the gritty, grainy sounds of the official tapes during the emergency itself.

Regarding the third movement, he recalls reading an article in the paper after 9/11 about a group of women from Stern College, near the Medical Examiner's office at the New York University Hospital, keeping an extraordinary vigil over the bodies--and body parts--of the unidentified victims of 9/11. This vigil, part of the Jewish tradition, is called "shemira", ensures that a dead body not be left alone until it is buried, a practice connected with the belief, as Reich explains, that the soul hovers over the body of the deceased until it makes contact with the earth, at which time the soul is liberated. Since the process of identification could take up to seven months, these women continued going in shifts to observe shemira with the remains, while "not having the faintest idea" of who the dead were, in an act of extraordinary humanity and generosity.

When it came time for Reich to write "WTC 9/11", he recalled this article, and managed to find two of the women who had participated in the vigil, an experience which apparently enhanced the inspiration for the third movement.

In closing, he reflects on the urgency of the topic "that is not just reflecting back on an event which happened, like a pillar that stands by itself, it's just a marker for a bunch of events that preceded it and have continued to happen in an abundant sense."

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Just in the car (simply moving it around the block on a sunny Sunday, in the ultimate mundane exercise on a day like today, a mere mile from the U.S. Capitol . . . ), listening to the Weekend Edition of All Things Considered on NPR, I chanced upon an interview with Steve Reich, a major American composer, who had been asked by David Harrington, leader of the Kronos Quartet (one of America's most unique and dynamic musical ensembles) to compose a special piece in honor of 9/11, after Reich had previously refused invitations from other sources ("but I simply couldn't say no to David . . . )

I'll try to find a link of the entire interview to post when possible.

But in the meantime, I felt fortunate to find the link for "WTC 9/11" itself.

The piece is composed, with the first movement in one of Reich's distinctive styles merging voices from the day itself, or later (sometimes looped or clipperd or elongated) with the strings of the Kronos. A subsequent movement now playing, typically Reichian struck (wood, metal) percussion; then piano The entire piece is available here on line on NPR's Website.

Enough for me to listen now (archived, so it can be streamed later at your convenience, to hear, when spoken words fail--or, on the other hand, overcome--and feelings fall or become too full . . . . )