Home. Away. Home, but something’s changed. Not a window pane is cracked, nor a speck of dust disturbed from when you left. Yet something is different. You are happy to see the broken light switch, the lopsided chair leg, to sleep in your own bed and eat from your own garden. But not as happy as you thought you’d be. Perhaps your memory, your desire to just go home, which propelled so much of your journey here, was distorted. As you realize this, the idealized remembrance unnoticeably decays into the anxious depression of nostalgia, an intangible specter which is the eventual destination of all happy moments.
However, this delusional dedication may also be a strength. I believe that home is the potent human will to search outside ourselves for that to which we can never really return. It is the bittersweet recollection of contentment, always sought and always unfulfilled, which motivates us to maintain an identity and purpose in the face of instability and meaninglessness. Though we may lose our homes over and over again- to cruelty or chance or time- we will never stop trying to find home, to create one wherever we go. Paradoxically, we seem to become cognizant of home only by journeying away from it. Only when we are without home do we realize the quiet thrum it leaves behind, the silent music of our subconscious, which I have attempted to depict here, among other thoughts, in two ways.
First, the spatialization of offstage musicians, encompassing the audience in localized yet indistinct sound. Second, the sharp or gradual perceptual flip of a motif from familiar to strange and vice versa, employed in a dialogue. These figures include wandering glissandi, metallic behind-the-bridge tones, eerie high partials, col legno or loosely pitched walking eighth notes moving at different rates, and, most distinctively, the melancholy wail of the thunder sheet.
Maya Miro Johnson ©2018
A great joy of this project was the opportunity to listen to a large and diverse group answer the same set of questions about home. Though there were beautifully individual moments and unexpected insights in all the interviews, I was most drawn to the frequent repetition of seemingly simple ideas: for example, “Home is where my family is.” One might find this statement clichéd, but the emotions behind these answers always felt deep and true and I loved hearing the nuances of timbre and rhythm in the different voices.
As I listened, I kept messy charts and scribbled lists of words and themes that kept re-emerging, settling on four categories that seem to encompass the interviewees’ primary descriptions of home.
- Home is about ancestry or roots.
- Home is about people, not place.
- Home is about childhood—the time or physical place one grew up, and the smells and tastes of one’s youth.
- Home is something you create or a choice that you make; it is not where you begin, but where you end up.
People have asked for my own definition of home. Home as an idea can seem straightforward, but is surprisingly slippery as one tries to make generalizations. I can say this: I think the idea of home, in its most powerful sense, is a view of what the world looks like when it is right. For every person this is different, but for most of us this means that home is tenuous, as much about desire, memory or imagination, as it is about something tangible. We hold on to home with fierceness, bordering on desperation, which can slip so easily into distrust and violence. One of my goals in writing the music for this piece was to express this undercurrent of intense feeling, passionate but also dangerous.
Lembit Beecher ©2019
About This Program
This program explored the idea of home, featuring a world premiere by Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Lembit Beecher, drawing from 47 interviews with community members and new poetry by Chris Santiago. Fourteeen-year-old Felix Mendelssohn was coming into his own as a composer when he wrote twelve sinfonias to be performed at private salons organized by his parents in their Berlin residence. A similarly young and talented 17-year-old, Utah native Maya Miro Johnson, uses her adventurous sound palette to reflect more directly on the idea of home in wherever you go, there you are. The concert also includes Haydn's Miracle Symphony, one of a series of symphonies written in the composer's adopted home of London.
FREE LIVE STREAM ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 24
Can’t make it to hear Reflections on Home in person? Watch a live stream of this program in our free online Concert Library on Sunday, February 24 at 2:00pm.
This performance is part of our Tapestry19 Festival, click here for more information.
Lembit Beecher is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Music Alive is a national residency program of the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA.
Say Home is made possible in part through the support of Jack and Linda Hoeschler and Fred and Gloria Sewell.