A Composer's Journal Entries April 24 & 25, 2005 by Laurie Conrad. Includes a review of "Early Songs" in Classical Music Guide, written by Lance G. Hill.
A Composer’s Journal Entries April 24 &25, 2005
Sunday, April 24
Windgarth 5 p.m.
Windgarth. M. & I cleaned up the downstairs today - Deb came by for an hour & helped us move furniture back. Cold, wintry outside, although the daffodils & some crimson tulips are in bloom. Deb will return during the week & clean - people have rented the upstairs next weekend. I can barely move, wrenched a rib raking in the gardens last Friday. At the end of the day, the harpist Myra Kovary & I hunched over the earth, planting rows of peas in the wind, four different sorts. Had a hot fudge sundae at the Happy Landing diner, Myra watched me eat it. A perfect day, except for the rib. Today Larry & Elise, one of Cindy’s daughters, dropped by. Elise had made me a beautiful five decade rosary, in a partly transparent, lightly woven blue cloth bag. She is staying with Larry until Wednesday; Larry looked Christmasy for some reason. Friday, I saw Ben briefly, he was picking violets for his mother. He had ridden his bike over, hopefully with his mother’s knowledge. He looked very happy and pointed to various corners of the garden telling me what grandma had planted there - I had my arms full of leaves. As he climbed the stone path to the house I called out “Love you” and, over his shoulder a boyish “You too ...” was brought back to me on the wind. Cindy is everywhere. A smiling photograph of her on the upright piano, looking at me as I write in this notebook ...
The lake angry today, restless, ominous. Changing colours, waves pounding the shore, like the sea.
Many letters to write - a stack on the wooden writing desk. Envelopes of different sizes & shapes & tints & inks & stamps from many countries. A beautiful collage of hidden, folded thoughts & papers, waiting for me to scribble some thoughts & lines in return. My inks & pens, in bottles of various sizes & shapes neatly arranged, writing papers and books ... The stained glass lamp I made throws its deep colours on the pale wall - one light blue piece of glass especially draws me into infinity. The black upright piano opposite me, waiting to be played. The pain in my body almost impossible to bear today ... No composing this weekend. A letter from France, from Simone - she wishes me perseverance with the piece I am writing for Our Lady, for orchestra & choir. (Bon courage pour la composition relative a` Notre-Dame.) She is content that the cats & I are well.
Soon we will be going back to town, leaving the sound & the wind of the lake to beat against the silence of the night & the shore ...
Monday, April 25
Just found this review of the “Early Songs” CD on the Classical Music Guide website. (For those of you who would like to hear tracks from the CD, go to CDbaby.com).
EARLY SONGS BY LAURIE CONRAD
Figaro Recordings, 00546, ADD, 46:08
Louise McConnell, soprano
Graham Stewart, baritone
Laurie Conrad, piano
I shan’t profess to be an aficionado of contemporary music, however, two recordings of music by composer Laurie Conrad arrived many months ago, one of which I discuss here. I found Ms. Conrad to be a composer who has the gift of writing music that is very much homogenized with texts. In other words, she has the keen ability to merge notes to texts that inspired her in the first place making it mean something immediately to the listener.
To appreciate Conrad’s work, one must know her thoughts on music: “I think of the tonal system, with all its beauty, being more a natural expression of our physical world — it is based on the lower partials of the overtone series. The chromatic notes that appear in the twelve-tone system appear very late in the overtone series, in fact, they are mainly inaudible to humans; there, in my mind, twelve-tone has always represented that which is unseen and unheard.”
There are two groups of songs on this disc of Early Songs by Laurie Conrad (23 tracks, but 22 actual songs forming a cycle) and Tonal Tunes (six tracks, two of which are the actual songs, but include an introduction to one song and a rehearsal to the other.)
What makes the atonal Early Songs so attractive is the names of the individual pieces she gives each of the 22 song tracks, collectively entitled Songs of Will several of which time in at less than one minute. Here, one’s imagination immediately goes to work once the title is known. One track comes in at four minutes, entitled "Rehearsal of 'The Visitor,'" composed to words by Ryota. We hear the artists tuning up, talking amongst themselves, receiving instruction from the composer, and rehearsing for the “real” take, which lasts 1’16”. What a novel idea, to allow us to hear a piece of atonal music developing into a final performance … a composer at work with baritone, flute, and cello! Indeed, baritone Graham Stewart's rending of the "The Visitor," provides a mystique and eeriness (with flute and cello) that makes one wonder just who might be this "visitor."
Titles within Songs of Will include "We are Playing," "Red Sun," "Flowers," "Feathers, with Piano," "Feathers with Instruments," "Tonight the Moon," "Prisms," "Stunned," "Insects Cry," and "Far Lightning," to name a few. Poetry for some of the music comes from Emily Dickinson, Arthur Tobias, and Ryota. Within the cycle—unlike cycles we are accustomed to hearing from traditional composers such as Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, etc., who generally wrote for voice and piano—Conrad has chosen to offer songs with piano, cello, flute, clarinet and voice, in myriad combinations. This offers a wide variety in color and expression for the listener. For example, in “Prisms,” one can see a prism in the mind's eye, with the variegated colors. Conrad’s music captured it perfectly for this listener. In general, I was much more drawn to this music than I originally thought I might be, giving it half a chance.
If I felt more at home in Laurie Conrad’s "Tonal Tunes," I make no apology since my inner being is far more connected to tonal music, particularly from the Baroque through the late Romantic periods. Conrad writes tonally quite beautifully, with singing, attractive melodies and harmonies. The first of the tonal "tunes" is "Dreams," a title that has inspired many composers, including Richard Wagner. Here the harmony of the vocal line accompanied by the piano was eminently appealing. The song "So Many Lovers," took me back to the time of Kurt Weill stylistically. The rehearsal of the song "Words," again gives us a glimpse into the work of a composer, who seeks just the right mood and vocal properties to be rendered by the singer, who sings the song in both, English and French. Again, a delightful melody to the ear. The last song, “Do You Remember,” is prefaced by an introduction taken from a telephone conversation Conrad had with a friend who died from AIDS, a reminder that this disease is still very much with us, thus making it a fine, heartfelt tribute to her friend. I would love to hear more from Laurie Conrad’s tonal side.
The recording was made in Ithaca, New York in 1983, with one track ("Do You Remember") having been recorded in 1993. The diction of the singers is impeccable, which it must be in order to fully appreciate the words and meaning of the song. Louise McConnell is a gifted singer whose possesses a full, clear, marvelously expressive and even voice. While the recording may not offer the digital characteristics of today, it is certainly adequate enough to allow us to appreciate the work of Laurie Conrad. You can learn more about Laurie Conrad by visiting the site www.figarobooks.com.
Lance G. Hill
Classical Music Guide