This post was written in preparation for our May 2017 concert, Music Speaks
In our 2017 spring concert,
Manitou Winds explores the meandering, mystical path connecting music and words.
Our concert, May 27th, will showcase music from many different genres and styles — from traditional wind quintets in the Classical tradition to modern works and American folk tunes for all sorts of combinations of instruments. While the oldest work on the program premiered in 1830, the newest work will be receiving its world premiere!
We’re very excited and honored to premiere another chamber work by our friend and fellow ensemble member, Laura Hood. In her latest work, Sky Dance, Laura composed both the music and the lyrics, arranging for flute, clarinet, ukulele, guitar, harp, and a very special mother-daughter vocal duet (sung by Laura and her daughter, Jessie Hood).
I recently chatted with Laura about her latest chamber work to get some insider information on the upcoming premiere:
So, where did you get the inspiration for this new piece? Are there any particular memories attached to Sky Dance?
The basic song structure was actually written over ten years ago. I was on a spring camping trip with some Leelanau School students on North Manitou Island. We’d all just finished a very intimate, moving council on gratitude, and I was sitting on the beach, watching the light change during sunset. That’s when I first jotted down some of the main lyrical ideas in my little journal.
“So quietly, in the gentle hour,
the hour of blue,
When the sky meets the earth, and where they join, there is you.
Suspensions of the day, they are resolved, the root holds on and the tonic remains true.”
— from Sky Dance
Laura Hood (b. 1961)
Our concert program explores the connection between music and words. Several lines from your lyrics marry musical terms with natural imagery — I love the masterful mixing of metaphors you’ve made here! A lot of the music on the concert program tells a story or evokes a specific scene. Were you also hoping to tell a story or paint a scene with this piece?
I think of it as more of a scene than a story. The first part of Sky Dance is about the tender and intimate moments of dusk; the delicate transition between light and darkness. It’s about this fine line where everything becomes very real. I wanted the vocal lines here to be subtle and low, so the supporting instrumentation is quite transparent too. Then the song transitions into the safety and celebration of nighttime — a dance party with the Aurora Borealis. Here, everyone is playing in a fun 5/4 time — each instrument and the voices all have their own part to play in the celebration.
As I was working on the scoring, my husband Bruce shared with me a chapter from The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, called “Sky Dance”. It was about the intricate mating ritual dance the woodcock does in springtime right at dusk. The male bird establishes his territory on the ground, spirals up into the sky, and then tumbles back to the ground to begin again. It’s just be another example of the kind of magic happening during those precious moments of transition at the end of the day.
“Let the night enfold you.
Let it lift you into the sky.
In darkness all of your shadows disappear,
your soul is free, no chains of fear.
And you can dance and you can sing.”
— from Sky Dance
You mentioned this piece began over ten years ago. I imagine time has changed some of the meaning of the lyrics for you — probably also the music itself. While scoring it for a chamber group, did you find translating that original vision into printed music a challenge? Did it change your vision?
It was a fun challenge to score one of my songs for a group rather than just solo guitar and voice. First of all, I had to notate the vocal parts which are very unstructured and folk-y. That was probably the hardest part and — at times — it felt like I was putting my melody into a box where it didn’t belong.
The flute and clarinet parts added a whole new challenge and dimension to the song — possibilities I had not thought about before. Since I’m a brass player, it took me a couple of tries to write parts that were not only fun for Sam and Anne to play, but also helped to create the sound I was hoping for.
Then came the harp part, which I usually approach much like a bass part (but with many possibilities for pizzaz). I knew that if I gave you a chord structure, you would come up with something cool more or less on your own, so all I had to provide was an outline for the harp.
Maybe rather than changing, I guess you could say your vision expanded! Performing your music is always such a treat because the music is challenging and yet not nearly so rigid as typical chamber music. We’re often invited to change our parts in subtle and not-so-subtle ways — there’s definitely that element of improvisation you naturally expect of us!
I feel so fortunate to work with you, Sam, and Anne. You’re able to play anything I write, you’re willing to give me suggestions, add your own ideas to the music. It was an amazing process to hear the notes I wrote on a piece of paper just spring to life, creating what I think is a really cool piece. I feel humbled and honored by this whole process.
The honor is certainly ours! We’re grateful you share your music with us — not to mention your great horn and guitar playing! For this upcoming concert, our audience will also get to hear you sing for the first time — your daughter Jessie, as well, will be performing with us for the first time. Can you tell us more about your musical work with Jessie?
Jessie and I have been playing music together for about three years as Da Sista Hood, playing at local establishments and for events and fundraisers in the area. It’s been fun to work as musical colleagues, creating the sweet harmonies that just come from blending voices of the same family. Matching tone and timbre just comes naturally for mother and daughter, so we’re able to focus on the sweetness of the harmonies, our inflection and interpretation of the lines. I’m continuously amazed by Jessie’s poise, her musicianship, and her ability to learn new material. I’m of course very proud of her and thankful for opportunities to share music together — including this premiere performance.
We hope you’ll join us for this one-of-a-kind premiere of another original work by Laura Hood.