a tulip, iron

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Quintet
2023
14 min.

Cello

Mezzo-soprano

Tenor

Viola

Violin

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Program Notes
Collaboration with librettist, Kendra Preston Leonard. Note from the librettist: a tulip, iron is about the fear and horror created by psychological and emotional abuse, the relief of escape from abuse, and the work required to contend with traumatic memories of it. Using Perle Fine’s work The Early Morning Garden (1957) as a focusing device for this lyric, I work with elements of the natural world as well as my own personal history. The mezzo soprano and tenor serve as protagonist and antagonist, respectfully, and I’ve made it deliberately unclear as to whether their texts and interactions are taking place in the present or are memories. The text is in three loose sections, through which the protagonist moves from fear and intense self-doubt into greater agency, grapples with the causes and extent of her wounds, recognizes how trauma has shaped her, and becomes able to distance herself from it. The antagonist diminishes and humiliates the protagonist, causing her to hesitate and sing in fragments of sentences. He calls her simple and an embarrassment, disparaging her mind and body and abilities, even as she begins to communicate more fully and lyrically and draws on a wider world for her outlook. Finally, he—or the memory of his words and actions—falls silent, becoming nothing to the protagonist, as she leaves the scene—or memory—with self- determination. Note from the composer: When I approached Kendra for a unique text to set, I asked her to explore memory as something difficult, questioning why certain things happened the way they happened, questioning yourself and whether things were your own fault. I wanted the text to draw on the deep intense emotions that still bubble over the surface from the bullying and gaslighting. I experienced at school. I have found this text deeply emotionally powerful to set. Alongside this, I engaged with the visual stimulus of Perle Fine's work The Early Morning Garden. Taken together, these helped me find a soundworld that is a mixture of fragility and strength, whilst exploring the nuances of colours and distinct gestural shapes for both the string players and the vocalists. The piece should be treated as an imagined scene from a larger narrative trajectory set ambiguously in memory or somewhere real; perhaps it is both.

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