Notes on Memoriam

(Originally posted April 21, 2006, MySpace page blog)

Memoriam is a Sept. 11th piece. I wanted to share some background on it.

Like most Americans, the events of September 11, 2001 affected me deeply. I felt very numb and still at first. The frantic pace of the modern world had come to a screeching halt, and I stood staring in helpless disbelief at the terrifying images being shown on television. I had no desire to write or create anything for a week or two. But eventually, I found myself inspired to finish a piece that had been in my in progress/to-do pile since 1993. (The text is derived from fragments found in the Christian Book of Common Prayer.) I was driving home from work one day in late September, ruminating on the date, 9-11. I imagined an opening harmonic interval of a 9th followed by an 11th. This opened the flood gates and I finished the piece within a few weeks.

There are several things in the piece that represent the events of September 11th and their aftermath. It's like my grief experience on a very small scale, (lasts about 4 minutes) moving from the initial trauma, through a pleading for answers, confusion, pain, and memories to eventual healing, acceptance, and peace. It is what it is.

The opening intervallic representation of the date, which I mentioned above, grew into a kind of ghostly lament, full of dread. Then there is a falling melody in the Soprano part at measure 11. This symbolic figure ends with a dramatic sliding effect, as the entire choir is suddenly on a true unison sustained note. This represents the sense of time standing still that I experienced in the immediate wake of the tragedy.

Out of that stillness, the opening lines of the prayer itself appear. There is much dissonance and repetition, illustrating the true sorrow and confusion I felt immediately after the attacks, and a pleading, urgent need for understanding, guidance and reassurance. After a brief, consonant phrase in which those we love are recalled, the anguish returns with some slow, grating dissonances on the words see no longer. The first half of the piece ends with two pleas of grant them Thy peace. The second of these ends on an open fifth; the lack of major or minor tonality signifies an unfinished, wounded state of mind.

Then comes the healing process. The melodic intervals of the 9th and the 11th return on the word perpetual, after a modulation to what appears to be a major key. This illusion lasts only briefly before the dissonances return, and the struggle continues. That progression is repeated once more on the next phrase before we ascend and arrive at safe lodging and a holy rest, leaving the most painful dissonances behind. Finally, on the phrase peace at last, we move to G major with large, wide open chords that remind me of a vast, heavenly expanse of great tranquility.

But the falling melody from the 11th measure returns, just as the memory of September 11th still lingers in our minds. After a short revisit to the introductory theme, the fall happens a final time. But this time, instead of everything coming to a sudden halt, the melody is lifted up and settles back down gracefully three times like a great sigh of relief. The final G-major resolution on Amen signifies that peace at last has been achieved.