Simple —2006

Conductor Rosalind Erwin led the Pottstown Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of Simple.

Program Notes

Ever since I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I have written pieces that incorporate pre-existing music. In my earliest works, I often quoted other composers’ music (from Gregorian chant to Chopin Preludes) with the intention of creating symbolic meaning. In 1997, inspired by Ives, Stravinsky and a healthy dose of cartoon music, I wrote a 12-minute orchestral fantasy (“Big Top”), a circus-like collage of quotations and variations on American tunes. In the following years, I began weaving folk melodies and children’s songs so deeply into the fabric of my pieces (“Riddle,” 1999) that the original songs were often no longer audible; rather, they served as a launching pad for creative action. On one hand, I enjoy working with pre-existing music because it immediately fills up the dreaded blank page that every artist begins with. More importantly, I always find powerful inspiration in the deep study of a single object (Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words Op. 19, No. 6, in my 1994 “Barcarole”), and the creative impulses that arise from exploring and interpreting someone else’s creation.

Folk songs and children’s songs are particularly useful points of departure because of their familiarity and their directness of expression. I always allow the meaning of the words of the songs I work with to influence the tone of the resulting composition. For instance, my 2001 string quartet “Songbook for Annamaria,” uses four children’s songs as the fuel to explore through music my reactions to the passing of my grandmother and the birth of my daughter after a long-awaited adoption. The creation of this new work, “Simple,” began with the well-known Shaker Tune “Simple Gifts.” Once again, the words of the song inform the creative process and the overall structure: “Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight./When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d, to turn, turn will be our delight ‘till by turning, turning we come round right.”