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Wanderlust #21: Birdsongs

5 November 2018

Birdsongs by Diane Moser

Please note: We are providing only a teaser of the original broadcast in our archive. You can purchase birdsongs here.

I love to listen to the sounds of nature. All of it sounds like a big symphony to me, with master improvisers at work–specifically nature’s most lyrical musicians: birds. For the past decade, I have been listening to, playing with, reading about and experimenting with birdsongs in my music.

This journey began with a five-week residency at the MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, NH) in June/July of 2008. I went there with a very different compositional goal in mind, but by day 2, it was all about birds for me. Every day I improvised with the birds outside my studio in the woods. I really just wanted to be a part of their “band,” and was hoping I wasn’t too intrusive. What I experienced was a give and take with the birds: They would sing, I would play, they would answer me and so on. Three compositions represent specific birds: “Hello” (Black-Capped Chickadee), “Dancin with the Sparrows” (Chipping Sparrow), “If You’ll Call Me, Then I’ll Call You” (American Robin). Three others represent the surrounding soundscape and time of day: “Won’t You Come Out To Play,” “Folksong” and “When Birds Dream.” I also pay homage to composer Amy Beach, who in 1920-’21, while in residence at the MacDowell Colony, composed “A Hermit Thrush at Eve” with her transcriptions of the Hermit Thrush calls and songs. My version evolves into a Latin jazz style with variations on her harmonic progression and improvisations on her transcribed birdsongs.

“Birdsongs for Eric” was inspired by Eric Dolphy’s music and this quote from an interview by Don DeMichael for DownBeat magazine in 1962: “It somehow comes in as part of the development of what I’m doing. Sometimes I can’t do it. At home (in California), I used to play, and the birds always used to whistle with me. I would stop what I was working on and play with the birds.” I totally understand what he is talking about! This composition was commissioned by Seed Artists, and premiered by my quintet with featured performer Howard Johnson, at the Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound Festival in 2014 at Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ).

In 2015 I was mentoring a very creative composer, Kyle Pederson, through the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Music Composition Program (Montpelier, VT). There was something special I heard in his music, so I commissioned him to compose a “birdsong piece” for this recording. He chose the Common Loon, the state bird of his home state, Minnesota, and created a beautiful composition that follows a day in the life of a Loon.

Listening to and playing with the birds as they sang was a deeply soulful experience for me.

My hope is that when you listen to this music, you will feel some of that essence and the next time you’re listening to the birds sing, listen a little deeper, you might just hear what they’re saying.

Diane Moser November 2017

Playlist

01 - Birdsongs for Eric (feat. Anton Denner & Ken Filiano)
02 - Hello (feat. Anton Denner & Ken Filiano)
03 - Dancin' with the Sparrows (feat. Anton Denner & Ken Filiano)
04 - If You'll Call Me, Then I'll Call You (feat. Anton Denner & Ken Filiano)
05 - Won't You Come out to Play (feat. Anton Denner & Ken Filiano)
06 - The (Un)common Loon [feat. Anton Denner & Ken Filiano]
07 - Variations On "A Hermit Thrush at Eve"
08 - Folksong
09 - When Birds Dream

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