This post was written in preparation for our May 2016 spring program.
There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 2016, concert entitled New Voices is a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.
Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.
Not only is our concert made up of very recently composed music, our audience will actually hear music featuring the composers as performers. One of these pieces is a remarkable, refreshing quartet written by our own Laura Hood (b. 1961).
Although she’s never had a single lesson in composition, Laura has always had a penchant for writing songs. Though a horn player through-and-through, her favored composition medium has always been voice and guitar in the singer-songwriter and folk style rather than classical horn. When the lyrics won’t come to her, she simply makes the piece instrumental!
At our summer potluck and mini concert back in 2015, Laura and her guitar regaled us with a solo performance of one of her beautiful songs (with lyrics!) romanticizing our four seasons in Northern Michigan. Having outed herself to the entire group as a composer, I hoped it would only be matter of time before she was brave enough to put some of her music on paper and slip it into the hands of her fellow Manitou Winds members! To my delight, she presented me with First Flight in January 2016 and gave me a guided tour of the score.
Laura composed First Flight to honor her friend Rebecca Lessard, founder of Wings of Wonder, a former raptor rehabilitation center and sanctuary based in Empire, Michigan. WOW had a tremendous impact in Northern Michigan — rescuing countless birds while housing those who were unable return to the wild. Beyond the life-saving force the organization provided through the help of its many volunteers, Rebecca’s efforts to spread the word about these majestic creatures through community outreach in schools and community events made her a local hero.
Right away, I loved the unmistakable folk vibe that emanated from Laura’s guitar scoring. By adding in flute, clarinet, and harp, the piece became something truly unique — a rare combination of timbres if not completely brand new.
Without being prompted, the next thing I noticed in the music was that it seemed to be telling a story — there was a dialogue between the flute and clarinet, an interplay between all four parts which seemed to be painting a picture worth thousands of words. A picture not revealed by the one-word titles of the movements.
Laura explains, “Many of the birds were clinging to a tiny thread of life when they first arrived at WOW. Movement one (Waltz) represents the tender care each new avian patient was given.” Rather than the typical steady, dance-like feel we would associate with a waltz, the music begins with a very thinly-scored but hopeful tune that grows and swells as the movement progresses (as the bird begins to heal and grow stronger).
As I learned more about WOW, I was reminded that not all of the birds moved on toward recovery. Some were tragically beyond repair and were humanely euthanized. Perhaps more touching were the birds who recovered but were permanently disabled, living the remainder of their lives sheltered in the loving sanctuary WOW provided. These birds were taken on roadtrips for outreach programs Rebecca provided in the area.
Movement two (Allegro) begins with an energetic, eager guitar ostinato propelling us forward. Laura was inspired by WOW’s 100ft flight pen which offered space for the recovering raptors to begin spreading their wings and gaining endurance. “This is depicted in the running passages and soaring lines of the flute and clarinet,” Laura explains. “Like the flapping of an eagle’s wings, the music eventually ascends until it rises into the sky with majestic glory.”
Not only was this composition a departure for Laura because it required her to completely score and notate her music in a fixed form, but she had never before written for winds or harp! It became a learning and teaching experience for the whole quartet as we discussed the particulars of articulation and phrasing. We’re excited that Laura plans to write more pieces for this unique quartet.
Rehearsing this one-of-a-kind work has been a treat for all of us — a chance to break away from the more traditional sounds of a classical chamber ensemble, allowing ourselves to immerse in a completely different acoustic. We are grateful that Laura has bestowed upon Mantiou Winds this unique treasure of chamber music telling the miraculous story of broken wings mended by loving and caring hands.