Four Are in the River (2011)
In these settings of Sarah Blackman’s poems I have made a straightforward attempt to underscore the character of each organism of the title and its relationship with her/his/its environment. The River binds them all together dramatically and musically. The Woman, though fatigued by the exertion of her daily labors, is nonetheless drawn to an aesthetic, contemplative experience of her surroundings and thinks of herself as an element of those surroundings. Her music is moderate and steady in tempo, the harmony at times placid. Her lines are smooth and lyrical. The beauty of the river stimulates a wistful dream of being washed away among the dapples of sunlight on its surface.
The Man, equally burdened by the efforts required to stay alive, sees his surroundings more as an adversary, yielding sustenance only after great struggle. His rhythm is more accented, his lines are more angular, and his textures are more radically variable and subject to outbursts as he considers one challenge after another. In the end, however, he is also entranced by the river, pondering the “blossom of oil” as it washes past him.
The Animal is full of himself and sees the river in thoroughly pragmatic terms, providing both food and shelter. He is without doubt or confusion. He kills without malice and perceives himself as a component of the endless cycle of life; he delights in his role. Like the Animal himself—perhaps an otter or muskrat—the music is fast, bright, and relentless. Alternating legato and staccato sections suggest that he is equally comfortable in or out of the water.
The Plant understands nothing beyond its own slow, inexorable progress toward maturity, unaware of the river without which it would not survive. It too is full of itself, endlessly celebrating its success at the one thing it can do—becoming ever more green. After a ‘cello solo suggesting the solitary wait of the seed and a quiet, very low web of counterpoint suggesting the dark soil into which it falls, the music chronicles the plant’s slow but dramatic ascension, followed by a rapid decline at the end of the season.
The unspeaking, inanimate, but life-giving river is the elemental force that all of these share. Its music recalls bits and pieces of each of the others (especially the Woman’s, which is sounded throughout) in their original order, the sections delineated by waterfalls. It ends with the same dappling of sunlight on the surface that all the other movements have (save the Plant, who is unaware of the River). The unspeaking River has actually spoken from the very beginning, lending its tireless forward motion to the lives of all who have depended on it.
A Child I Was (1989, rev. 2000)
In a gentle 6/8 most of the way, it is shortand sectional, with music that attempts to capture the spirit of each part of the text (my own). It is performable by a good high school or community group, preferably not too large. This piece won 2nd Place in the 21st Annual Choral Composition Festival at Ithaca College in November, 2000; I have a very nice recording by the Corning West High School Occidentals, who performed it at the Festival. I will send one copy for you to photocopy as needed for your group.