The second movement of my vocal/chamber cycle, The Pieces That Fall to Earth. Performed live at the Boston Conservatory in May of 2010 by the Fifth Floor Ensemble with Erin Merceruio, soprano, and Patrick Greene (i.e. me) conducting.
THE PIECES THAT FALL TO EARTH is a three-movement work in two parts. The first, Hymn, stands on its own, while the second two constitute a single section titled Songs of Stasis. The title of the piece comes from a poem of the same name by Kay Ryan which, though absent from this set, provides a thematic linkage between the two halves.
The delicate balance of science and the sublimely indefinable is a pervasive theme in much of A.R. Ammons’ (1926-2001) poetry, but is perhaps best realized in Hymn (1972). Like the narrators in Futility and And all is always now, the speaker in Hymn is in a static state. Acutely aware of the beauty of the natural world, he still longs to supersede it. He searches for evidence of the greater workings of things, all the while knowing that he can’t change them.
If a man finds God, he’s still a man. He still wakes up and faces the world as it is every morning. If, in death, a man finds God, he’s still dead. He still can’t enjoy the beauty of natural processes—the infinite, mitotic kaleidoscopes, the endless variety in the bark of a tree.
Like, Hymn, the two Songs of Stasis concern existential immobility. The Stephen Crane setting, Futility, is sung by the character of the toiling Man, who, despite his exertions, can’t seem to make progress. He directs his rage at a mute Donkey, chiding the ass for being sessile. The “futility” is in the Donkey’s deaf reception of the Man’s anger. In spite of his tremendous effort, the Man is unable to convince the Donkey that tireless industry is the sole producer of success. This Sisyphean narrator is directing all of his force at an immovable object, and thus is standing still.
And all is always now, excerpted from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, explores stillness from the perspective of the Donkey. The ass’s conception of stasis is fundamentally different from the Man’s in that he views stillness as an ultimate, ever present truth. For the Donkey (who is decidedly Zen in his outlook), progress is an illusion. Time itself is illusory, not a vector with quantifiable direction. Because all motion exists within a greater stillness, the Donkey chooses to be in harmony with his stasis, and accepts his immovability as an inalterable—and quite beautiful—state.
- Modern Classical