Do inanimate objects have a narrative, a story to tell from their perspective? Can ordinary objects be viewed as works of art? Artists have explored this concept throughout history in one form or another, but composer Jenni Brandon (b. 1977) may be the first to set this inanimate narrative to music.
This spring, Manitou Winds will perform three movements from Jenni’s “Found Objects: On the Beach”. The six-movement trio, commissioned in 2014 for the PEN Trio, is a colorful, imaginative work bringing to life the narratives of “natural artifacts” the composer discovered on her walks along the coast in Long Beach, California. The motifs and themes of each movement perform double duty, setting the scene while inviting the listener into a world viewed from the perspective of each object.
Movement one, Tumbled Stones depicts the power of the ocean’s currents and waves as they tumble and sculpt the stones littering the sand. With her masterful skills of tone painting, Jenni uses the three voices of the trio (oboe, clarinet, & bassoon) in rising and falling patterns to depict waves. The rounded waves are punctuated by playful motifs depicting the pounding surf and tales of each stone’s journey.
Our trio has enjoyed navigating and negotiating the musical challenges built into this movement—practically a synchronized dance for three! In order to avoid stepping on the toes of your partners, performing it requires knowing the other two parts as intimately as your own. We have to communicate constantly throughout the performance to keep each other in balance, but — at the same time — we have to allow each other the freedom to express our parts individually. The first movement of this trio, in particular, really forces us to flex our ensemble and musiciality muscles!
Kelly Green Sea Glass, movement two, is a beautiful unaccompanied clarinet solo. While finding glass on the beach can be dangerous, over time sand and sea wear away at its sharp edges to create small gem-like pieces. Gradually, the “gems” dissolve into tiny particles of sand, returning to their origin. Through the use of a special technique (timbral trill), Jenni tells a story of sea glass as it stares at the sun from beneath shallow waters. The melody rises and falls, shimmering and gradually disappearing.
The third movement we’ll perform for the concert is the final movement of the trio: Seashells. Jenni chose a lilting waltz as the storytelling medium for these colorful natural works of art. Just as each seashell is slightly different from the next, the context and color of the melody changes throughout the movement before the ocean waves eventually return, creating a rousing conclusion.
Up north, along the coast of Lake Michigan, where the water is unsalted and the waves are (usually) smaller, we can still appreciate these musical narratives about water’s beauty and its power to change the world around us. Though many of the rocks we find on our beaches were left behind by glaciers carving out our inland seas, they tell a compelling tale nonetheless (including the Petoskey stones). Thanks to a hopefully small cadre of careless beachgoers, we can even occasionally find sea glass all along Lake Michigan’s beaches in many shades!
We’re delighted to present another excellent work by Jenni Brandon, one of our favorite contemporary composers and a champion for modern chamber music. We hope you’ll join us May 11, 2019, to hear the trio as part of our spring concert, “Found Objects”.
To learn more about Jenni Brandon and her growing catalog of works, visit her website. To discover more about Manitou Winds’ ongoing exploration of Jenni’s music, click here to read past articles from our Manitou-Zine.