Appalachian Sketchbook
Song Cycle

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This is a cycle of five songs setting poetry of Violet Wynn. Although originally written for voice and piano, I have also written an arrangement that replaces the voice with oboe and violin, in order to perform this piece at a recital with my friend Alexander Marte, violin, and myself on oboe. This was the world premiere of the cycle, and is the recording linked above. This piece is tied together by what I think of as “Mountain chords.” These chords take a slightly different form in each movement, but are fifth-based, and move in parallel motion. Other unifying elements are the rolled pentatonic chords introduced in the very beginning of the piece, as well as the use of vocalise (the contrast between lyrics and vocalize was the one element that I was unfortunately unable to effectively capture in the instrumental version).

Beautiful Maple
no two leaves the same color
(green, red, purple, gold)
fills me with wonder
I look up to see
A crimson fire-field sky
and white cloud-lakes
Golden leaves raining
upon an ocean of grass
The balance I seek
Dancing on Autumn leaves
in shadow and light
The moon bathes fresh snow in blue and silver light
Although it is beautiful, I wish it would not shine so
Then I would not have to see the darkness so clearly
Snowflakes drift and gust in the chill breeze
Among cloud shadows and delicate sun-mottled mountains
While rhododendrons and mountain pines
sing their joyful song in counterpoint with the wind


Notes from the Poet:

The intent of each poem is to capture the essence of an individual moment as a textual sketch, capturing the scenery as well as the emotional state of the speaker into a complete image. Each poem depicts a specific scene that has some significance to me.
Beautiful Maple is a memory of a young maple tree in my front yard in rural West Virginia one autumn day. I Look Up was written on a very early morning car ride to Washington D.C. We left while it was still dark, and the sunrise from the highway made the sky look like a red plain, and the clouds like lakes in concave relief. Golden Leaves recalls a walking meditation where fall leaves fell like rain, as well as a particular maple tree whose leaves danced in the wind, casting light and shadows on each other. The Moon was written during the 2016 snowstorm that dumped several feet of snow on most of the area. Looking out my kitchen window over the gently rolling snow cast in the light of the full moon, a sense of longing came over me, like a memory from another lifetime. Finally, Black Mountain is a scene viewed from a lookout point in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. The first real snow of winter was blowing a light dusting of snow around, and the clouds cast deep shadows across the mountains and valleys.

-Violet Wynn

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