23 July 2020

Sheep and Scarecrow

For us to have pulled off the amount of group-writing that we’ve pulled off, and to have pulled it off as successfully as we’ve seemed to have, is to me, the biggest success of The Firesign Theatre. 
Secondly, that we haven
’t killed each other is the next biggest success.  No one has been shot during the writing sessions, and that’s a great success (laughs)
— the late, great Philip Austin

Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote) Op. 58b
The occasion for composing the original piece was a request by the Czech composer-pianist Giorgio Koukl for a new piece for piano and wind quintet. I exulted in the opportunity to write for six professional instrumentalists. I started actually with the title, I believe I found the alternative orthography ‘Don Quijote’ in the writings of Washington Irving, who spent time in Madrid at the invitation of Alexander Hill Everett, then American Minister to Spain. This suggested the general character of the piece, which I approached as an episodic fantasy. I wrote it at a time when the nation was shocked by a national catastrophe, and so, as an artistic response I wanted to write a piece bristling with good vibes, we might say. This I especially expressed musically in the balletto quasi flamenco which is the piece’s climax. In 2013 I prepared the arrangement for “Pierrot-plus” ensemble.

Kurosawa’s Scarecrow (Memories of Packanack Lake), Op. 145a
I wrote this piece in 2017 for my k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble. My colleagues asked me about:
1. The Scarecrow. The fact is that at the time, I believe I was simply exulting in the phonemic play, in the phrase “Kurosawa’s Scarecrow.” But not long after I coined the phrase, or at the least, formed that title, I watched for the second time The Seven Samurai. And my wondering eyes saw a scene in which an armored scarecrow was raised to draw fire from the attacking bandits. Of course, I had seen the movie a few years earlier for the first time, and I cannot, therefore, discount the possibility that the image, the idea, lodged somewhere in the Henning brain. (So many odd things do there lodge.) So there the question rests.

2. Packanack Lake. It isn't as if the lake really meant that much to me, ever. There was a time in my life when I lived nearby, although I saw the lake more frequently reading a map than I did with my eyes. For our present purposes, there are two emotional notions. The first is that bodies of water have always meant something to me, and this was one near to which I long resided, but which I did not know. I knew of it (savoir) but it was not familiar to me (connaître). The second is that the lake was part of my life, insofar as it was any part, at a curious in-between period in my experience... I had been graduated from high school, it was my ambition to go to college to study music, but I had no understanding of how I might do so, and I was simply working odd jobs. It was a kind of twilight in my life, but neither can I deny that the twilight is a romantic, suggestive, hopeful hour.

I created the fixed media element first. All I can really say of it is, I have fun manipulating “found sounds.” I later rescored the live ensemble component for string quartet at a time when I happened to have met both a fellow composer and his wife (a violinist in a local orchestra, who gave me a card for her string quartet)

Oh, in sending in The Nerves t’other day, I was inattentive to the scoring requirements.  Last night I brought my submission into compliance.

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