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  • Writer's picturePeter Dayton

4.8.20 Continuing to create, continuing to make, continuing

Dear Friends,

I hope you are staying safe and washing your hands. Though much of the routines of life as we have known them have changed, finding things to occupy our minds constructively and to engage with beauty are more important now than ever.

One or two people have asked me if I planned on writing anything in response to our current situation. While I do not think of myself as a composer that writes works directly responding to major calamities (though there are examples of composers who do so, and appropriately), in some ways my most recent composition feels applicable to our current situation. More than a year ago saxophonist Kyle Blake Jones approached me about writing a piece for him and soprano Katie Procell, a longtime collaborator and a muse for my vocal writing. In early January 2019, Katie suggested that I create a setting of Max Ehrmann's poem "Desiderata", a prose-poem from 1927. Some project ideas lie fallow for longer than others, and while Katie and I worked together on my concert project May She Love: Songs & Opera Celebrating Sappho & Stein in August 2019, it took some extraordinary circumstances to finally dive in to "Desiderata".

Manuscript and draft score for "Desiderata: Ten Pieces of Wisdom" for Soprano & Alto Saxophone (2020)

The text is more prosaic and less image-based than my usual choices for musical setting. And each epigram being its own long-line/stanza (Whitman-like) brought up questions of flow between ideas. The piece certainly represented a new challenge. But, in the current crisis, unable to really go anywhere, and also feeling less inspired for my other current project (an expansive saxophone sonata, also for Kyle Blake Jones), this setting represented opportunities: working with a thinner texture; thinking of each stanza as its own miniature, it became something I might be able to complete and bring closure to quickly. In fact, the piece became a kind of daily creativity challenge. Some of the lines of the text really resonate at this particular moment:

"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here."

It seems applicable at this time. I can't wait to share this piece with with you audio form, whenever that is first possible. Since my next recording project will involve recording my complete works for soprano with Katie Procell, this piece will now be included in that album. This helps give me some distance from the alto saxophone sonata project, and I look forward on getting back to that and developing future pieces!

Please be in contact with your friends. Gigging artists are hurting during this time, but of course, they are not the only ones.


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