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Henry David Thoreau is an icon of North American culture. An outsider, abolitionist, protestor, humanist, and respected writer of many works including his lauded Walden, Thoreau experimented with the idea of simple living and drew life-affirming meaning from communion with the natural world. For two years, he lived in a self-made hut on Walden Pond, a small lake not far from Boston, and kept a journal of his musings, meditations, and experiences. The journal entries are packed with beauty both in language and content, and they illuminate the complexity of the human condition through metaphors inspired by Thoreau's secluded interactions at the pond.
For "Reflections," I selected two excerpts from Thoreau's journals that explore the essential value of seizing opportunities and living fully, without sacrificing the vital wellsprings of introspection and reflection. I chose the image of water as the sonic and visual inspiration for this work and utilize the interval of the perfect fifth as the prominent musical motive — an interval of stability, groundedness, and peace. The opening section bustles like a swiftly flowing stream — its water rushes along on its journey as it touches each rock, each surface, exploring all possible avenues. The piano oscillates between two consecutive perfect fifths that gradually shift and descend by step. The choir rides the wave of this figure with Thoreau’s words “We live but a fraction of our life. We do not fill all our pores with our blood." In the second section, the rushing water empties into a calm lake with a perfect reflection on its tranquil surface. Perfect fifths continue to permeate the melodies and harmonies, and the vocal lines are reflected in "the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind." And as we peer more deeply into the crystalline water, "our depths are revealed to ourselves."
We live but a fraction of our life.
We do not fill all our pores with our blood;
we do not inspire and expire fully and entirely enough,
so that the wave of each inspiration
shall break on our farthest shores,
rolling ’til it meets the sand which bounds us,
and the sound of the surf comes back [to us].
Why do we not let on the flood,
raise the gates,
and set all our wheels in motion?
There is the calmness of the lake
when there is not a breath of wind;
so it is with us.
Sometimes we are clarified and calmed
as we never were before.
We become like a still lake of purest crystal
and without an effort
our depths are revealed to ourselves.
All the world goes by us
and is reflected in our deeps.
Obtained by such pure means!
By simple living,
by honesty of purpose.
To be calm, to be serene!
Taken from journal writings by Henry David Thoreau, adapted by the composer.