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Liner Notes

John David Lamb - Late Harvest

Late Harvest - Näckens Vänner NV-5

Halcyon Summer is an amiable 4-movement suite for brass quintet. It was composed for the Italico Brass in Seattle and first performed by them in the summer of 2000. The music has a light-hearted, outdoors character, and the movements can be described as carefree dance, serenade, waltz, and ragtime. There is no implied story here. Enjoy!

Bicinia Americana Thirteen excerpts from a collection of short 2-part songs for young, treble voices. The songs were composed in the mid-1960s as a demo to illustrate the exercises in a proposed solfège method designed for use in public schools. It was to be an English language counterpart to Kodály's comprehensive Bicinia Hungarica. The publisher changed hands, the project was abandoned, and the demo was never used. The texts include two poems by A.E. Housman; the rest are original or traditional. The tunes are all original with the exception of Old Betty Larkin.

Here are the song titles:

Strawberries, Infant Innocence, Quodlibet #1 (Old Betty Larkin / When I was in love with you), Dorian EVIV, Stars & Sand, Quodlibet #2 (My cousin German / How many miles to Babylon?), Old Woman, Quodlibet #3 (Jack & Jill / Hickety Pickety), Sky Sweeper, Ambiguous Phrygian Solfège, Do you love me? Gonna Leave My Farm, Alligator Purse

Song & Dance for solo horn and chamber orchestra (1958)

Before the invention of valves, horn players developed an amazing ability to produce almost all the notes of the diatonic scale by using their hand in the bell of the horn to inflect the sound. This and the fact that not all notes could be produced gave a unique character to the way composers treated the instrument. I have always been fascinated by this special sound, and even though Song & Dance uses a modern horn, the style is directly descended from those rococo virtuosi.

The Song movement is a quiet lullaby built on two simple, rising motives. In the coda, the horn sounds all the natural harmonic tones from the lowest to the highest while the notes are held by the strings so as to form a wide-spread overtone-series chord. The movement ends with a gently repeated "good night" from the horn and a solo violin.

The Dance movement takes its mood and rhythmic energy from children's games and jump-rope rhymes. The overall form is a rondo variant: ABCBA. The A sections are built from tiny motives, only a few bars long. These are repeated in various sequences like colorful beads on a string. Can you hear seven beads? Eight? The inner sections consist of a stylized ländler which is interrupted by an exuberant diversion in the middle. The string of beads returns with new sequences, and like a necklace, ends as it began.

During a sabbatical year in 1965-66, my family moved to Whitethorn, a small former sawmill town in the redwoods of northern California. We had a cabin among the trees at the edge of town, and our closest neighbors were the nuns of a Cistercian monastery that had recently moved to California from Belgium. They were learning English and struggling with the need to find new music to fit the English texts of their liturgy. They asked my help with composition. It was a joyful experience for me, and we became good friends. We kept in touch after we returned home, and a year later, when the monastery built a new chapel, the nuns asked me to compose a dedicatory mass for the occasion.

Short Mass is a four-movement setting of the standard mass text in English. It is scored for three-part treble voices, mostly a cappella. The "Lamb of God" movement has a simple part for alto recorder.

Psalm 150 A companion to the Short Mass, composed in August 1968 while I was on retreat at the monastery. It is also dedicated to the nuns at Redwoods Abbey.

Rueful Passages is a one-movement tone-poem scored for double woodwind quintet and percussion: finished in July 2005. The earliest sketches date back to 1987 when I determined to compose a big piece without using melody and harmony as structural elements. Without melody and harmony to guide me, I had to devise other means to make it all make sense, and thus sonority and texture became the main tools. I began to see the piece as a classic psychological nightmare: quiet beginning leading into scary territory with the situation finally going totally out of control.

The form then coalesced into two distinct parts: a walk through an initially innocent landscape, a theme/introduction followed by four variations (easily identified by texture); next the nightmare in surreal territory, three disturbing panels (introduced by the first hammer blow) presenting different perspectives on life's pointless madness. The middle panel, for example, (the one with the hi-hat) is a kind of cynical faux-nostalgia with a bitter taste. In the end there is no escape from the grim nightmare other than to die or to wake up.

The death of a loved one is surely the worst loss we can imagine, often worse even than the prospect of our own death. To deal with this trauma, we have established rituals, comfort food, support groups, and even whole religions to help us bear the burden of our grief. Society is set up, as much as it can, to offer us consolation at his intense time of need. This is as it should be. It would be unbearable to suffer such pain all alone in silence.

There are still other losses that can hurt almost as much as death, and we have not developed social forms for recognizing and dealing with them. These are internal losses, often things we ourselves have let slip away: loss of confidence and self esteem; loss of life goals and dreams; loss of purpose, gumption and will; and worst of all, loss of passion and joie de vivre. Unlike the sudden fact of death that strikes with immediate force, these inner losses creep upon us only gradually over a period of years, and when awareness comes at last, there is no ritual to help bring closure, no support group to share the pain, no comfort food, and no one to blame.

When I composed Sorrow's Turning, I was able to follow a formal scheme based on the classical grieving process: denial, anger, consolation, acceptance. The music was allowed to end peacefully. When I set myself to write a companion work about inner loss, I realized that this emotional experience does not follow the same pattern at all, and I struggled for a long time searching for a way to approach it. Conversations with Stuart Feder were a great help in resolving both technical and psychological problems. Loss of dreams, for example, does not result in denial, but it often leads to bitterness and then to anger and depression. There seemed no reasonable way to end a piece of music based on this model. Dr. Feder persuaded me that it was possible to develop the anger and drive it until it flew apart and hit the wall. The music would then stop abruptly and violently without actually ending – no feel-good resolution, no comfort, no sense of coming home. In other words, it would hurt. And that is what Rueful Passages came to be.

Stuart Feder did not live to hear the results of our conversations, but I was able to describe the work to him by telephone just a few days before he died in July 2005. He graciously accepted the dedication. J.D. Lamb – 2009


Art – Sydney Stibbard
Recording, editing and mastering – Al Swanson
Song & Dance recorded by Eddie Sams at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church - Live concert – February 4, 2007
Thanks to Greenlake Methodist Church and Queen Anne Christian Church for providing recording space.
Production – J.D. Lamb
All selections licensed by ASCAP
Published by
1907 East Blaine
Seattle, WA 98112
©® 2009 by John David Lamb