Monday, November 5, 2012

Keep Singing

A few months ago we lost a friend to cancer. There was really no way to be able to attend the memorial service--it was on the east coast and I had duties several states west, but one morning as I was in the middle of a little surge of compositional activity for other reasons it occurred to me to try to set one of his favorite songs for piano and send it along as an mp3 file that could be played during the service. Eventually, some of us gathered in Illinois to celebrate his life and the piece was played there as well.

I don't generally work that fast, but the piece was written in one day and recorded the next. Actually, as I listen to it now I think I could play it much better, given a little time to sort out what is actually going on musically--giving my mind and my fingers time to let it ripen, so to speak. But I've been too sick to practice for the last couple of weeks so you're stuck with the original version!

The piece is based on a folk song, "How Can I Keep from Singing." The day it was written, Pete Seeger, who has become identified with the piece, was a guest on The Colbert Report, which I happened to see. And, when I looked up the piece on Wikipedia (where else?) it turned out the lyrics were first published on that same day in August, exactly 144 years earlier.Odd, that.

One of the things that makes the piece tricky is that in addition to the tune itself there is another, faster melody, bubbling along in the same hand, crossing the tune over and back, continually singing, running without growing weary...

When the tune itself temporarily disappears there is a melancholy section in e minor...remember, this is for a memorial service. But there is something else before the end, before it all fades away into silence. Maybe it will speak to you. Or not.

In any case, yesterday at our church we remembered those who had passed on in the last year (on All Saints Sunday this is customary throughout large portions of the Christian world). We do so by lighting little candles for the departed when we go up for communion. I was, as usual, busy playing the piano and could not light a candle. So this is my candle.

Rest in peace, Howard.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

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