- Morning Study -
written for the Korea Times San Francisco - 8/10/2012
For some years now I’ve been hearing an unusual bird song at dawn. It’s a “chip…chip…chip”, very high and metallic when night’s darkness begins to lighten... and then, after a day-long silence, again at dusk “chip…chip”. I’ve never heard this sound anywhere but in my own backyard. Last spring I became curious enough to discover that this is the California Towhee. Once a pair of Towhees settle on a place to live, they stay on at that spot. They don’t like other birds at “their” home. Sometimes they even fight their own reflection in a window or in a car mirror.
A little over a year ago, while watching the morning’s changing light and listening to the Towhee, I wrote a piece called Morning Study for a chamber music group in Los Angeles with the name Southwest Chamber Music. The piece was then played this past May at the first Los Angeles International New Music Festival.
A composer needs to observe things closely and to have a curiosity about what is happening in daily life. A new piece begins as one of these daily life “seeds” in the composer; this seed might be another work of art, musical or otherwise, a bit of birdsong, maybe a potato one ate the day before, possibly even a sickness, pain or struggle in life.
I listen to the Towhee begin to sing in the spring, continue through the summer, fall silent in the winter .Then I forget about it until the song begins again the next spring. The Towhee knows when to sing and when to remain silent, apparently knowing also that, when you are silent, best to be completely silent. Maybe it’s a bit like working hard during a long life and enjoying peaceful later years. Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to see this happen…