Thrushes is the first of a two-part work written for 4 voices of any type. The text was inspired by a poem by e e cummings of the same title, in which he carefully arranges the lines of the poem and inserts some punctuation.
As a young composer, I faced the challenge of writing for voice from a source that seemed to have clear performance indications, but in practice were ignored when the poem was read aloud. I wondered why cummings would so carefully place each letter and bit of punctuation. It appeared quite similar to musical notation to me, where the rhythm is proportionally placed and each symbol stands for a change in sound.
I decided not to interpret the poem literally, but rather to use it as a starting place. The punctuation was visual “noise” and so I added found percussion. I took the sound of thrushes and greatly stretched out the sound, and had the voices mimic the shape of the thrush sounds, which generally sound as a two part sound – high-low-high followed by a kind of trill.
The score is graphically notated, with pitch mapped vertically and rhythm horizontal. Some semblance of traditional notation appears at times, but the score is nearly entirely graphic. I meant for the performance to take roughly 4:30, but in practice it usually takes at least 6 minutes.
The performance below is by members of the University of Maryland Opera Studio.