My neighbour John plays trumpet and I hear him while birds sing.
Throughout the pandemic, in warm and cold weather, I often sit on my front porch. We’ve set up a table and chairs, curtains and heaters. I can be outside and work on my writing despite the weather. Or in celebration of it.
It’s very pleasant—fresh air, bird song, many trees.
Across the street, I frequently hear my neighbour, the artist John Miecznikowski, practising cornet. I understand that his son was an accomplished trumpeter and he gave the instrument to his father to learn. (They also share a love of motorcycles, and John has told me some great stories about his riding exploits in the 60s and 70s.)
Because John is “learning,” he often plays what sounds like hymns, or at least, simple tunes, but on cornet they have a English brass band sound to them.
Recently as I was working on a new novel, I listened to the sound of the trumpet entangled with the sound of the wind and the birds. I had been working on a cello piece for my old high school friend George. I decided instead to write something for John, something that evoked that entwining of trumpet and bird song.
I made a electronic track using field recordings that I made of bird song, hiking in the local Hamilton woods along with repeating alto flute, bass clarinet and piano. Then I wrote a solo line. I’ve given the recording and the music for the solo to John and he tells me he’s working on it. He also told me, mysteriously—and from behind the tall hedge which hides his garden—that he has something for me. Maybe a poem, I think he said. Hmm.
Here is a recording of me playing bass clarinet (playing the trumpet part) along with the birds. I think the whole thing sounds a bit like Morton Feldman taking a walk in a forest and hearing birds. If he would even do such a thing.
It’s a great regret that I arrived at the graduate music composition program at SUNY at Buffalo just after he died. I’d have so loved to have met him and to have studied with him. Still, his influence appears in some of my work and in my musical thinking. His music is still a favourite thing of mine to listen to, often late at night in my bed. Constellations as mobiles permutating quietly somewhere far yet near.