Duration: 17 minutes
version one: solo organ
Premier: May 2009. Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Malden, MA. Matthew McConnell, organ
version two: viola and piano
Premier: October, 2008. Mercury Cafe, Denver, CO
Megan Tipton, viola; Keith Kirchoff, piano
I. The Sloth Slogs Through the Sluice
II. Stranded in the Capital of Nowhere
III. Slippery When Wet
IV. An Inside Joke
V. The Sky is Falling
VI. The Little Mouse Scurries Through My Kitchen Eating My Food and Soiling My Dishes
VII. Echoes in the Hollow Chamber of Uncertainty
In 2004, Matthew McConnell – a composer/organist whom I had worked with on several occasions – asked me to write a work for solo organ. Happy to oblige, the commission would prove much more difficult than I expected. I drafted many versions of the piece over the next several years, beginning with a large scale 60+ minute fugue, scaling it down to a 45 minute sonata, and eventually settling on a set of seven short pieces totaling around 15 minutes.
The final version began in December of 2007 when Boston received its first snowfall of the season. A true lover of snow and all things winter, the flurries put me in such a good mood that it stimulated the right creative juices, and I immediately wrote out a short piece for solo organ. Both pleased and surprised by my sudden creativity (I am rarely musically inspired by natural events), I proceeded to write a second piece as well that same afternoon (these would later become the first and third pieces in the cycle).
Realizing I had finally hit upon a workable idea for the organ, I began expanding the cycle shortly after the new year. Each piece was the direct result of some non-musical event in my life, and the intent of each piece was to be kept short and devoid of development: one musical idea was presented, played through, and then the piece was over. Get in and get out, as it were.
Briefly, the influences behind each of the remaining pieces are as follows:
Stranded in the Capital of Nowhere: I travel frequently and have a long tradition of cancelled flights, lost luggage, and general travel nightmares. This piece was written after a string of flight cancellations while stranded in the Denver airport. Originally titled "Stranded in Denver," I decided that sounded desirable, and so altered the title to reflect my downtrodden mood.
Inside Joke: By the time I finally had Matthew's piece under way, he had written me two excellent pieces for piano (he writes at a significantly fast speed than I). An excellent musical theorist, he takes particular pleasure in analyzing various pieces to see how they were put together. Therefore, I chose to derive all of the pitch material for this movement from the two pieces he had written for me: Gestures and Concerto for Toy Piano. This is, of course, a musical reference only he would ever catch.
The Sky is Falling: This movement is an abridged version of my earliest sketch for the organ sonata. It is intended to evoke images of the apocalypse.
The Little Mouse Scurries...: My house at the time had an unfortunate tendency to appeal to mice and carpenter ants. One particular brave mouse ate several loaves of bread, a couple bags of potato chips, cereal, and a sundry of other foods before I finally caught him.
Echos in the Hollow Chamber...: This is the one movement that does not relate to any particular event and contains more than a single musical idea. The last piece I wrote, I was struggling for some time with how to end the cycle, and eventually decided to end it on a slightly softer note.
Upon finishing the cycle, I started to think it would work particularly well for a solo string instrument and piano. My friend Megan Tipton had been asking me for several years for a piece for viola, so I opted to rewrite everything for her. While the basic ideas of each movement remains more-or-less the same as the earlier version, movements four, five, and seven are significantly different.