Monday, November 3, 2008

The Mermaid

I spent my high school years at a small, inspiring and supportive school in Boston called the Commonwealth School. Commonwealth was founded by Charles Merrill in 1958. In celebration of the school's 50th anniversary a gala event was planned. In April of 2008 I was commissioned to compose a choral piece to mark the occasion.

Together with Janetta Stringfellow, the director of development for the school, we decided to ask my friend, poet and journalist Ethan Forman (class of '84) to collaborate with me. My first impulse and thought for the piece was to compose something very joyful and celebratory, like a fanfare.

I had not composed a piece for chorus since my senior year of high school. I was both excited and a little scared that I might not be able to pull it off. To make the process even more difficult, I wanted to compose a joyous and celebratory piece as I said, but Ethan kept writing poetry that was far more reflectively joyful than exuberantly celebratory. I also spent a lot of energy worrying about the complexity of the music, the intellectual rigor of it. The bottom line is, I kept getting in my own way. For me, this is consistently the biggest hurdle in the creative process.

I finally gave in to the reflective nature of Ethan's poetry in August, one month before the finished piece was to be delivered to David Hodgkins, Commonwealth's music director, so rehearsals could begin.
Once I let go, I was able to complete the piece quickly. I composed what I thought was a beautiful melody for the soloists to share and supported it with a flowing, tidal accompaniment sung by the chorus. The whole thing worked out pretty well I think. I was actually relieved that the accompaniment did indeed serve as a good support for the melody. It might have obscured the melody since it is a bit busy.

The finished composition was premiered Saturday October 25, 2008 in the Cyclorama at the
Boston Center for the Arts in front of a crowd of 750 alumni, parents, friends, faculty and staff of Commonwealth School. What an amazing feeling it was to hear all those voices singing the music I had struggled to create. It was such a beautiful and moving event and I am honored to have played a part in it.

Thank you Charles Merrill for your creation.
Thank you Janetta Stringfellow for asking.
Thank you Ethan Forman for your poetry.

Thank you to all of the Commonwealth School family who make it such an inspiring place to grow.

Happy Birthday!


Commonwealth School Gala, pt. 2-The Mermaid from Commonwealth School on Vimeo.

And here is the text:

Remember the mermaid who swam in from overseas
Born from a city's resistance

She taught you how to wag that tail of yours
And wave a sword of victory
She beat her sword into ploughshares
And hung her long locks on hooks
Despite her tail she dragged her books upstairs
No Pyrrhic victories here

She was just a girl who learned to walk by taking the subway
Back and forth to school
Learning for her was like the tides
Something she'd come back to again and again...

Remember the mermaid who swam in from overseas
Born from a city's resistance

Now each fall a new crop of mermaids come
Eager for sword and ploughshare lessons
Searching for meaning in struggle
Preparing for a life of action
Mermaid don't dwell too long
On all those crushes and first kisses
Don't wait too long
To celebrate and sing about your memories

She was just a girl who learned to walk by taking the subway
Back and forth to school
Learning for her was like the tides
Something she'd come back to again and again and again...

1 comment:

Janetta said...

You're welcome! Thank YOU!