It’s pretty safe to assume that adjusting to life in Los Angeles is difficult for most people. It has certainly been the case for me, even though I lived here while I was an undergraduate at UCLA. Traffic, smog, and dinginess are just so pervasive here. It is a challenge to see past it all when attempting to settle in.
The transition from the Northwest to Southern California had its most profound effect on my compositional output. Week after week, I labored to commit a mere few measures at a time to the page. I spent many hours writing but ended up with very little to show for it.
The past has brought periods of low creative energy, including strings of days consisting of little-to-zero output. But until now, I had never tried so hard to get music on the page to no avail. Not only was it discouraging and embarrassing (especially at a new school with a new teacher), it is also left me overwhelmed with a desperate sense of doubt. I wondered if I would ever be able to write again, truly.
It wasn’t until my friend, Christopher DeVage, came to me with a beautiful Dickinson poem that my creative jam began to weaken. The poem is, in fact, a profound expression of doubt. During the process of its composition, I did not consciously apply the poem to the doubt that I was experiencing at the time, but in retrospect, in the present moment, it uncannily occurs to me how relevant the poem was to my state-of-being while I composed it.
The poem reads:
Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?
Has it feet like Water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?
Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Men from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!
– Emily Dickinson
Perhaps what I was feeling at the time helped me to understand consciously and subconsciously the heart of Dickinson’s message. Other musical settings of the poem seem to ignore the fact that it is written from a position of darkness, and the poet is left wondering if the sun and its light will ever be experienced by her again.
The song is scored for baritone and piano, but the baritone line also works nicely on a melodic instrument. Last Friday, my good friend, Brett Banducci, and I recorded the song with Brett on the viola and me at the piano. Enjoy.