Composer, Brian J. Nelson answers a few questions about his new composition, Windswept Glory.
Why did you pursue this project?
The seed idea for this project came from Shane Spangler, one of the composers on the program for Windswept Glory. He contacted me in 2019 to see if I would be interested in writing a piece setting poetry of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, our Kansas Poet Laureate Emeritus. Shane’s schedule got pretty busy right around that time, though, and I offered to develop the idea into its current form.
Why did you have to write this music?
Although not every piece on the concert is brand new, writing a new work in collaboration with Caryn was vital to the whole concept of the event. She, together with the photographer Steven Locke, had written some years earlier for a wonderful book called Chasing Weather. Steven is a severe weather photographer and Caryn, in that book, wrote poems based on photos by Stephen. For example, the poem called Still Life is written to accompany a picture of a bridge over a frozen lake during winter. This poem and photo (see below) is the basis for the second song of the title piece I wrote for this concert, a series of three songs for soprano clarinet and piano featuring the Lyric Arts Trio from Kansas City. These multiple levels of collaboration bring a real richness to the event.
Still Life – Photo by Stephen Lock
Photo with inlaid poem by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
What was your writing process?
The compositional process for a piece like this begins with the text. In a sense, the music already exists within the text within the context of an individual composer’s musical language and life experience. This is true first and foremost in the setting of the actual words to son notes for the singer. But it also expands out from that too general mood and even musical ideas that define a piece but are never sung as such. One example would be this opening motive from still life, mentioned above. This motive for clarinet and piano, is never sung by the vocalist and yet it’s the emotional core of the whole song.
As far as the actual day-to-day process of writing piece like this, it’s a lot of trial and error and caffeine supplied by local coffee shops. As one of my teachers James Barnes used to say, there’s a reason there aren’t very many movies about composers: Not enough action!
There is another aspect, however, that’s very much worth mentioning. Namely, the collaboration with the performers during the writing of the piece and initial rehearsals, in this case with the Lyric Arts Trio. They had many good suggestions throughout the process for which I am very grateful.