People often ask me what I am inspired by. Sometimes it is something as simple as the sound of wind, waves or thunder, or even a work of art, but often it is something a little more unexpected. In the case of The Book of Goddesses, it all started with a phone conversation.
One day, a woman from California called, wanting to sell some of Victoria’s Lumiere Records CD’s in her shop. Her store specialized in New Age music and music for meditation and massage. Out of curiosity, I asked her what her top selling CD’s were. She said, “Oh, by far, our goddess CD’s. Those sell more than everything else combined.” I was immediately fascinated by the idea of music inspired by goddesses, and the idea stuck with me.
I know a few composers that write (or have written) music based on gods, but not too many composers that have focused on goddesses. The idea of writing a work based on goddesses has always interested me. There are so many classical music works that focus on gods, so why not goddesses? The main challenge would be to write a piece that sounded goddess-like, without slipping into sounding too New-Agey (nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but that’s just not my style). My goal was to write a piece that infused different styles of music from around the world with my own sensibilities as a composer, while at the same time creating a work that would work well choreographed by a dance company.
Most importantly, this piece would also need to work in a concert hall setting. Fortunately, at around this time, the New York City based trio MAYA received a New York State Council on the Arts grant to commission me to write a piece. I struggled to come up with a compelling idea, until one day it occurred to me that a piece based on goddesses would work very well for their instrumentation, flute, harp and percussion (and mostly hand drums). Many images of goddesses from around the world depict them playing flutes and harps, and all three of these instruments (or in the case of percussion, many instruments), have deep roots in many ancient cultures around the world. Also, since MAYA was very open to the idea of working with a dance company, and since MAYA is such a visually striking trio, the two seemed to go hand in hand. I have never written music designed for dance, at least as a professional composer, and this is something I’ve always wanted to explore. This work seemed like it could be the perfect introduction to working with dancers.
When composing programmatic pieces, I research whatever subject I write about quite a bit, so I collected as many books on goddesses as possible. The best one I could find was The Book of Goddesses by Kris Waldherr, and her book ended up inspiring the title of this piece. Once I found out that she lived in Brooklyn, I just had to meet her.
Two of my favorite aspects of composing are when I have an opportunity to collaborate with other artists who I admire, and when I am inspired by work by living artists, so I was hoping that Kris and I would hit it off and find some common ground. We met at her studio and got along very well, and I was thrilled to see her beautiful work up close. Kris also plays cello, so I thought she would be interested in what I was working on. I asked her if she’d be willing to design a booklet that featured her work to accompany the music, based on The Book of Goddesses. Luckily, she agreed.
The Book of Goddesses trio is only about thirty-six minutes, and it is designed to be performed either in its entirety, or groups of movements or even single movements can be performed. AfterI wrote the piece, I decided to create two other separate pieces from selected movements: Three Goddesses, consisting of the movements for flute and harp, and Estsanatlehi for solo bass flute (or C flute). Performers are free to mix up movements any way they want on a program.
Since my ultimate goal was to record The Book of Goddesses, I chose to round out the album by composing a sister piece for The Book of Goddesses entitled Freya’s Tears for the Clockwise Duo (Jacqueline Kerrod, harp and Marc Uys, violin). An interesting aside: this piece calls for an innovative, specialized harp mute called the Kerrod Mute, designed by Jacqui and Marc. This mute is placed on the harp ahead oft time, and allows the harpist to quickly mute or un-mute sections of strings, creating a sort of xylophonic sound. This allows the harpist to play with both hands while the mute is in place. I am hoping that other composers write pieces using this mute so it becomes a standard device in the harp world.
I then decided to include another work I wrote entitled Embracing the Wind that was recorded by my ensemble, the American Modern Ensemble. (Embracing the Wind has a similar instrumentation, flute, viola and harp.) The performers for this piece are Danielle Farina, viola, Jacqueline Kerrod, harp, and Sato Moughalian, flute and alto flute. This piece was previously released on Star Crossing, a CD of my chamber works AMR released in 2011.
MAYA and Clockwise spent a few days over two different sessions recording with Adam Abeshouse, a world-reknowned, multi-Grammy® winning producer. A few months later, he edited, mixed and mastered the entire project. Not surprisingly, it sounded incredible.
As we were finishing the master, we began working on the booklet. This process took months. What attracted me to Kris’s work in the first place, other than her subject matter and compelling writing, is that her books are very distinctive, beautifully designed, and often very elaborate. Some of her books have gold foil in the titles in the book itself, others have fold-out sections, and so on. We decided that the book should be hard-bound and completely wrapped in gold foil, which, as far as we could tell, had never been done before for a CD. In Kris’s words, this would give it a sort of Gustav Klimt quality. This turned out to be a very difficult process, and the entire template for the CD packaging had to be designed from scratch. Luckly, I found Megalodon, a company that specializes in elaborate packaging. They are perfectionists to the max, and did an incredible job. The project turned out beautifully.
After the entire project was completed, Adam Abeshouse submitted it to the Classical Recording Foundation for consideration for an award. Luckily, through this recording, I was one of two composers who won the 2012 CRF Composer of the Year Award, and this helped cover some of the production costs. I was also presented with the award at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall by Christopher Rouse, a good friend, former teacher and mentor. MAYA performed a few movements from The Book of Goddesses, and I was thrilled. It was an amazing evening and I was incredibly honored. There were some amazing people there who also received awards, including the legendary Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the amazing soprano Susanna Phillips, and the talented composer Arlene Sierra, who also won a Composer of The Year Award. All in all, it was an amazing evening that I will never forget.
It is often surprising to me where creative ideas come from, and even more surprising that this, wonderful creative journey all started with a random phone call.
Tags: Adam Abeshouse, alto flute, ame, american modern ensemble, Arlene Sierra, bass flute solo, Carnegie Hall, Classical Recording Foundation, CRF, dance, Daniele Farina, Estsanatlehi, flute, Freya's Tears, Gustav Klimt, harp, harp trio, Jacqueline Kerrod, Jaime Laredo, Joseph Kalichstein, Kris Waldherr, Marc Uys, Megalodon, percussion, Sato Moughalian, Sharon Robinson, Susanna Phillips, The Book of Goddesses, Three Goddesses, trio, viola