Still life in last night’s leftovers (2014)

Title: Still life in last night’s leftovers

I. sunburnt sand
II. minutes falling silken away
III. the butterfly keeper

Completion date: April 2014
Instrumentation: soprano, mezzo-soprano, oboe, clarinet in Bb (+bass), contrabass, piano
Duration: 10’30″
Premiered: 2014 06 13 by Alexandra Porter, Jilian McGreen, Zach Pulse, Thiago de Souza, James Sullivan, and JJ Penna at Town Hall Theater, Middlebury, VT.
Program Notes:

This piece is based on a collection of poems I wrote in 2013 and 2014. These follow an imagined intimate relationship from both sides over time; this set uses some of the poems from one of the points of view. The two singers both inhabit that character and share the text; the soprano acts as the external self and the mezzo-soprano as the internal one. The poems in their original forms, in the order of the movements, are as follows:


Movement I: sunburnt sand

toward the ocean
by ourselves, wandering
amidst old columns
mine Greek yours evergreen
the primal urgency
recedes, when a wall
(named Atlantic)
divides us.


when we’re
the air
is set aflame –


later, when
the fiery tide ebbs, mingled pulses subside
while languishing on sunburnt sand – dark
cocoa hair weaves with fingers and I
how beautiful you smelled the first time too
twenty-odd years ago.

(24 February 2014)



Movement II: minutes falling silken away

ten thousand tinkling snowbells rain
down on the garden walkway
accompaniment to last week’s
scouting mission (standing
stones and gloaming
litter this
battlefield) and frost
the mid-March crocuses,

but I can’t complain –

after all,
the day of your funeral was lovely.

(3 March 2014)



Movement III: the butterfly keeper

the butterfly keeper
is an old man, broken
by the side of a dusted road
that winds
– a lazing snake –
over a static sky littered
with the sobs and gasps
of the hundred thousand throats
who have all left behind
this story trampled by lifeless soles
that here amidst the copper sound of
a lonely theater
– that anxious barren –
with overcast ceilings shining
its sluggish perfume under all these dead
who would applaud empty hallways
freckled with hand mirrors
that tell some other child’s tale
while the cart is pushed by
up a gentle slope outside
windows showing nothing but
the four hundred and seventeen
dancing and
quietly unaware
of an old man, tired
who remembers

(11 November 2014)



ScoreStill life in last night’s leftovers – score

Personal Notes:

I (apparently) write a lot of vocal works. As of this writing, over half of the pieces I have listed on this site are vocal works in some way. Over the course of the past few years, I have explored various different kinds of text for these, and have most recently primarily made use of my own writings. Poetry and writing has been a part of my life for a long time; I don’t actually remember a time in my life before I read, wrote, or recited poetry.

So my relationship with poetry is interesting in the context of writing music. My engagement with the text as a composer is different from anyone setting, say, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, since I am also often the poet. I can identify both strengths and weaknesses in this approach – I can write and edit a text specifically toward a musical project (and am more willing to heavily edit them), but I tend to treat the text as more sacrosanct and perhaps less interestingly than the possibilities suggest.

The poems used in this song are part of a series I have been working for the past many months. They are unique in my poetic output in that I have specifically avoided writing on the topics of love, romance, or sex; those themes are quite popular and I felt that my voice was not needed. However, for this series I opted to force myself to write an entire collection focusing on these themes – largely just to see what I could accomplish with or learn from them. I decided to imagine the collection as poems written by a man and a woman – sometimes to the other, sometimes as personal musings – as their relationship starts, develops, ends, and what happens afterward.

My favorite parts of this piece are measures 48-49, the mezzo line at measures 64-72, the harmonies from measures 109-113, and measures 168-169 (especially the passing Bb in the piano right hand). On the negative side, I think some parts of the second movement are weak, especially transitions from phrase to phrase, and could use some cleaning up and polish.


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