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Program note

The ocean inside

Description

The ocean inside was written for the ensemble eighth blackbird and was commissioned by the Third Practice Festival at the University of Richmond. It is based on the piece "Choshi" from the honkyoku repertory for shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute).

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Program note

I have always been interested in the technique of cantus firmus, where a pre-existing melody is used as the basis of a polyphonic composition. In early western music, this melody was traditionally a chant, and the other voices were composed in counterpoint to this melody. For the listener the cantus itself may not be clearly perceived, and yet it permeates the entire piece. I see cantus firmus as a way for a composer to engage a melody in an especially deep way.

I am a student of the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and particularly love honkyoku, the traditional meditative music for this instrument. Honkyoku are quite similar in intent to Gregorian chant: like chant, they exist not so much as "pieces of music" but rather for the purpose of devotion. When I was commissioned by The Third Practice Festival to write a piece that somehow engaged a non-western music, I knew that I wanted to try to use a honkyoku as a cantus firmus. I turned to a piece called Choshi. It is said to refer to the essential harmony of the universe, or a state of mind where heaven, earth, and human are perceived as one. Choshi is a very simple piece, but very profound, and is used to settle the mind for spiritual practice.

In The ocean inside, Choshi is the cantus firmus around which all of the other parts were written. While it is perceived for the most part only obliquely, it is the hidden melodic heart out of which the entire piece grows "the ocean inside."



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