Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I got a message from my friend Aubrey yesterday ~
"Last night we pretty much made the audience cry with "Morning Song." Just wanted to keep you up to date with the continuing ripple effects of your music. People just love the songs of yours that we do and comment often on yours in particular."
It's neat to know that people are listening to that song, years now after it was written. Aubrey and her husband Elwood are folk musicians - (You can check out their tour schedule on the Atwater-Donnelly site in the sidebar.) I met Aubrey in the early 90s. In a way we were brought together by Jean Ritchie's music, but it was Cari Norris, another musician friend, who introduced us. We cherish the times when we can get together and sing - in the meantime we keep in touch via email & the phone.
Aubrey sang in three of The Secret Commonwealth projects. The first one she did was The Road, and that's where she heard the Morning Song. I can't remember now if I taught her the guitar chords for it - I think I did.
The Road started with the concept of life imagined as a journey. It's one of the most common conceits for telling the story of life, and that's why I chose it for The Secret Commonwealth. My idea was that I'd take a journey, take notes, and if my theory about mythic images was correct, then I would naturally experience those myths, in some form, as I travelled. I chose a place that I had dreamed of visiting when I was a child - the desert. My plan was to take along a notebook, write down everything significant that happened, then use that material to compose the opera from. The experience turned out to be much more intense than I thought possible, but that's another story.
I can't help but wonder WHAT the audiences listening to Aubrey and Elwood imagine as they listen to the Morning Song. For me it evokes a very particular place in the desert, on a particular morning. I replay the picture of it in my thoughts, and see how it looked. I can smell the sagebrush, junipers and pinon that give the desert its wonderful scent, almost feel the wonderful grateful feeling I had for the instantaneous rush of warmth that the sun brings there when it rises, dispelling the cold of night.
It was early spring when I went on that journey, and now every spring I get an urge to return to the canyons of southern Utah, to sleep on the sand far far from roads and electricity, far from any signs of humans except the ancient cliff dwellers whose homes still perch in the nooks of high cliff walls.
The original journal was lost during the production of The Road, but I'd made a copy, with some changes, all for the worse I think, with an idea of eventually putting it into readable form. The original really was a traveler's notebook - I kept it on the seat of the car and scribbled notes as I drove. Then, once in the desert, there was a rule that every night I had to write the events of the day before going to sleep, no matter how cold it was or how exhausted I was, both usually very.
Last night it occurred to me that Aubrey might enjoy reading the passage in that journal related to the Morning Song, so I pawed through the notebook pile and managed to find the draft copy. Here's the passage, about the first morning in the desert:
"In the dark before dawn, I awaken and walk quietly out of camp. Breathing clouds in the cold air, I cross the plateau and climb the mesa. I am wearing my feather-horned clown hat. On the highest point I dance, balancing on a boulder, singing sounds, over and over. I face the East, waiting for the light to change. I sing a line out of the past. I sing my worldly possession - a cocoon spun out of story threads.
First I see the dark shape of the canyon rim emerge from the deep purple sky. The second color of light is yellow - breath becomes visible in it. The third color of light is red; the sun ball rises and the day begins.
Down by the stream, they wake up and rattle pans. Juniper smoke and the scent of sizzling grease rise in a thin blue string. Ruth Ann comes climbing toward me as I descend, across the plateau garden of yellow mustard blossoms glowing amidst the gray-green sagebrush and dun colored sand. I remember her dancing in our yard when I was a child, leaping into the air.
Her hands are weathered by the earth. She has worked, and now her laughing children emerge, with sleepy eyes, awaiting the goodness that she will provide.
All day we follow the windings of the canyon, pushing our way through willow thickets, wading and rewading the creek. At every crossing the llamas (Lightfoot, Nippet, Boomer, Murphy, Picoso, Neptune, Moosey, Sammy, Bubba, and Alfie) drop their pellets and urinate.
High on a West-facing cliff, we see a panel of pictographs - human shapes, animals - bighorn sheep and antelope, snakes, and square-enclosed webs that look like maps."