On Further Reflection

More reflections on On Further Reflection

Traveling last week to DC for the premiere of
On Further Reflection, wonderfully rendered by the commissioning ensemble, the Atlantic Reed Consort, has yielded a few additional insights. First, just before departure, I realized that I should add subtitles to the movements. It was during my daily meditation, first thing in the morning, and I suddenly understood more of what was in the piece. As described in another essay on the piece, I used the I Ching to generate a series of energy states that I then allowed to guide the sectional changes in the piece.

Now, I had a realization of how the changes in energy related to each other in a loosely narrative sense. The meaning deepened as I described my realization to the ensemble, and seems rather to arise from consideration of what conditions nurture a sense of well-being. Each movement has four sections, and is connected to a trigram from the
I Ching. The trigram Tui/Joy kept showing up, and I used the energy, but the kind of joy I was using was not very overt or cheerful. It was more a matter of fleeting moments, particularly in the first movement, where glimpses of joy or swagger come between lower, almost foreboding energies which punctuate. Once I had the flash of appropriate subtitles, things settled into place in my mind.

The subtitles:
I. Seeking Refuge, II. Sheltered, III. Confident.

What I realized was that the joy of the first movement was a limited, restricted kind of joy, and that the primary content of the second movement was, even as I composed it, marked by the image of rain, of keeping still and being sheltered, protected. (These images came from the
I Ching.) Wind shows up as short sections throughout, connected to the concept of dispersion. The final pair of those sections comes at the end of the second movement and the beginning of the third, where I chose to use the sense of wind as a penetrating force. That penetration then sets off the last movement, which offers a confident flowering of the materials which gradually emerged during the protection of the previous movement.

What is so interesting to me about this whole progression is that I composed with the energies offered by the trigrams, pondered them at great length, generated music which carried them, and yet never quite grasped the underlying implications of their order. These energies and relationships had as much to do with my personal life as with the larger world “out there”. Only in working with the group, hearing actual instruments play the notes, and fielding questions about how to treat this place or that, did I gradually admit to myself that there might be a narrative that fits the shape and structure of the piece.

I have never wished to offer programmatic narratives for my music, and I will not now. Whatever I might state at this time would be to make up something that wasn’t intended while composing, and would replace the open-ended pondering that can happen in a listener with what would surely be received as the “correct” interpretation of the energies heard. So I leave the story there, as one of a composer learning more about the piece he has composed by experiencing it with the people who are bringing it to life.