when soft voices die
Instrumentaton: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion (vibraphone, tom, kick drum, suspended cymbal, metal bowl, triangle, finger cymbal), piano
I’ve always been fascinated with the piano’s ability to build up big chords and let them hang in the air. With the right kinds of sonorities, you can create a humming mass of overtones that vibrates and evolves as the resonance slowly dies away. There’s something so wonderful about this rather contradictory sense of movement that one gets from what is essentially a static chord. “when soft voices die” is my attempt to imagine how sounds that appear first as an afterthought in the wake of a musical gesture might become independent and expand into their own complete musical ideas. The initial piano gestures that open the piece were something that had for many years been sitting in my sketchbooks, but had never been used. As I began to think about incorporating this material into a piece, I became interested in exploring the sonic world that would result from these sounds gradually evolving and taking on a life of their own.
The title of the work is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, “Music, When Soft Voices Die.” Though I found the poem late in the compositional process, I felt a very strong connection between the material and Shelley’s meditations on the enduring nature of memory. The poem also has a very strong connection to the personal events that surround the piece. At the time that I first began working on the material, I was teaching a young and incredibly talented composition student named Tedd Wright. Tedd had a precocious and seemingly instinctual understanding of music, and the pieces he brought to me were exceptionally mature for a 12-year old. His talent was matched only by his hunger to absorb as much of music as was possible, and he soon began studying guitar with me as well. When I learned of Tedd’s passing, I could not help but be saddened at the thought of the musical potential that would no longer be realized, and the brilliant young boy who could no longer share his gift with the world.
“when soft voices die” is dedicated to the memory of Tedd Wright. The talent and dedication that he brought to music (and so many other things) during his short time on this earth are still a source of constant inspiration.