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Steingerð vængjapör


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Hi all,

This is a song I wrote under extreme pressure. It was a cold, dark winter morning in the western district of Reykjavík. I woke up at 0730 and within five minutes was in the shower. This was one of those mornings where the hot water was shy to arrive, but I was in a hurry and could not waste precious minutes waiting for it, so into the cool shower I hopped. I am a seasoned cold water enthusiast so it took me but a few seconds to adapt, but when the hot water finally arrived I found myself completely seduced by it. "Bah, there's no rush", I thought, and proceeded to take a leisurely if focused shower. The clock struck 0800 as I exited the shower and upon discovering the time decided that it would not be wise to waste too much time, after all, I was to show up at 0830 at the academy for what my composition teacher called a "special assignment". In a modest hurry I ate a small breakfast and packed a few things to serve as snacks, which my teacher warned his students would be essential. It was 0815 as I left my apartment, clothed for the harsh winter in nothing but a suit, a snow jacket and a hat and gloves, but luckily I had decided to drive home the previous night rather than walk, which saved me a half hour stroll through downtown Reykjavík. It normally only takes twenty minutes to walk, but as it had snowed heavily the night before I would have had to wade knee deep in fresh snow to get to the academy, which adds an extra ten minutes to the journey at least. Unfortunately, the same problems that haunt pedestrians also haunt drivers to a much greater extent. Driving through snow is not necessarily more difficult if you have winter tires, perhaps slightly more perilous so a slower speed is advised, but getting your car stuck is a huge issue. Just my luck, I couldn't even leave my parking space. Thankfully it was easy to dislodge but it took ten minutes if you also account for removing snow off of the car itself. I didn't get stuck on the way, but I passed many cars that did, so I can only consider myself lucky.

I arrived at the academy a little past 0900 and found the class in complete silence, working furiously. I greeted the class and apologized for being late, citing the unfriendly driving conditions. My teacher was sympathetic, having showed up a little late himself, but spent no time on idle chit-chat. I could tell immediately as I walked in that the special assignment he spoke vaguely of was going to be crazy. My suspicions were confirmed when he said: "On the table you will find a collection of poems. Choose one to your liking and compose a song for soprano and piano. I am expecting a singer and a pianist at noon to come and collect the pieces. They must be ready by then." I cannot accurately describe my mindset that morning, but it was very zen. Oddly, I did not suffer from any kind of doubts or writer's block or anything like that. I chose a poem, took a seat and began to think. What do I do? Instead of wallowing in inner turmoil over the viability of this or that approach, I pounced on the first idea that I had. I spent maybe an hour sketching out the general architecture and coming up with answers to some questions that would be important to the process. Then I started writing, and I wrote almost non-stop until noon (I went 15 minutes over too), working out all of the fine details that needed to be settled. At last I was free - I handed over what I had done, almost unconscious of what I had been doing the past four hours. The singer and pianist hastily rehearsed the pieces during lunch break and returned at 1300 to recite the pieces as best they could. The performance was far from perfect; most of the pieces were quite difficult and they had little time so nobody blamed them. I was conflicted about the result. On one hand I was delighted that it turned out very nearly how I had imagined it despite the inaccurate performance, but on the other hand it lacked focus in important moments. My teacher said as much, and urged me to revise it. Revise it I did, and I also ended up performing it with the same singer at the end-of-semester concert for this year. The recording you hear is live from that concert. I hope you enjoy.

The moral of the story being, of course, do not spend too much time preparing to move. The only way to know if you are one step closer to checkmate or whether you committed a horrible blunder is to move the piece. Do it in an informed manner, but do not be afraid to falter, as it can only serve as a learning experience. A side note to the moral is: Sometimes you just don't have enough time to fully realize your piece. If there is a tangible deadline, i.e. somebody is literally waiting for you to give them the score, you just have to get to work and finish it in any way you can. It is much easier to revise a piece than perfect it before it is finished, and you have plenty of time after the deadline to do that. These are lessons that I now carry with me, having experienced them first-hand.

P.S. Before you judge the singer too harshly, know that the hall is notorious for being very difficult to sing in as it is almost completely dead acoustically. Believe me when I say she is a fantastic singer when she is better rehearsed than she was at this concert and is in a space which is not actively sabotaging her. I was a little nervous so I managed to completely space out for the first half second or so of the piece, which is why I came in a little late - I apologize for that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I confess I've listened to this several times. I didn't know exactly what was that captured my attention. I think it is the fact that you wrote a romantic song (or lied) with XX century harmonies. And I like it. Some people say that this kind of music is good for "horror movies", but it's also fine for romantic spots.

The singer is amazing, it's not easy to sing  intervals like the ones here.


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19 hours ago, bkho said:

Wow, very nice both the piece itself and the performance.  Do you have an English translation of the text?  It ends almost as if asking a question.


I'm sorry, I can't believe I didn't think to provide one. Unfortunately as the poems are quite recent there is no public domain translation available so the best I can do is to loosely translate the Icelandic (which was translated from Norwegian first, so even though Norwegian and Icelandic are similar languages be aware that some meaning may be lost - and there is most certainly loss of meaning when translated over to English):

In the sky in the wind en route
from one fossilized pair of wings
to another the bird glides

P.S. The Norse languages have very flexible grammar, similar to Spanish (but not as much as Latin), so these sentences are illegal in English if directly translated, so I had to shuffle some things around.

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Something about the first chord of the second full measure just. it's. ugh. I almost want it to last a little longer. to fully bloom. to captivate more. i was shocked at how short the piece was but at the same time felt that it needed to be that way. The eight note pulse almost trudged along. i found myself wanting a few counter melodies here and there, however the soloist is. damn. she's good. those intervals and rhythms are something that i don't normally see. so I can understand the need for that pulse to be there. I am shocked that this took you for hours. truly. if i even tried to match this style and mood it would take me days. weeks even. but that's just the thing. it's weird. no. surprising to feel the emotion in the piece. first measure boom; it;s there. and it wanders and talks with it's self. When you get to the second fermata i melted again. that just. it's like that natural crunch that just makes you all warm and tingly. maybe that's just me. i'm in admiration of this piece. Wonderful job. Thank's for inspiring me. 

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