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Text adapted from the short story "Shadow People" (2006), by Leila Austin.
Music composed September-October 2007 by Robbie Ellis.
Text tape part read by Leila Austin.
Score available for purchase through SOUNZ - Centre for New Zealand Music
Performed by Donald Nicolson (piano) and Rohan King (tape part)
7 July 2009, Nelson School of Music
Part of the Nelson Composers Workshop
Recorded by Phil Brownlee
In September 2007 at the University of Auckland, I attended the launch of Spectrum 4, a book of short stories. These stories were the end-product of 24 writers’ work in a third-year English course, ‘Writing the Short Story’, convened and tutored by Witi Ihimaera the previous year. The first story in the book was Leila Austin’s Shadow People.
Leila’s writing – particularly the evocations and contrasts of shadow vs light; the harshly real vs the safely imaginary; and a flighty imaginary companion called Maeve – inspired me to set this piece for solo piano. The solitary nature of the piano and its evocative qualities of shade and shadow suits it, in my mind, to accompanying past recollections.
To accompany the piano part, Leila and I pared down and paraphrased her original story to a small number of lines, which I recorded her speaking. The words on tape come from a disembodied storyteller in the present remembering her past. The piano part accompanies and complements the speaker’s thoughts and memories.
At the root of this piece is the interval of the second, which is found in two guises – major and minor. The major second opens and closes the piece. While it often has dissonant qualities, here it is not strongly dissonant and is used in a very still and suspended state. This interval represents the idea of shadow and the comfort the storyteller found (and finds) in it.
The interval’s other guise is the minor second, a much more jarring harmony. This evokes light, the opposite of shadow, and in particular the sharp fluorescent light of Bars 59-66. Towards the end of the piece there is interplay between the minor and major seconds, and there are even places where the minor second is a consonant interval (e.g. Bars 77-80).