These questions were posed by Robert Workmon, in advance of the concert Thursday, October 24, at UNCW, which featured the North Carolina premiere of Ocean Calling I: Waves and Currents and Ocean Calling II: From the Depths. http://uncw.edu/arts/oceancalling.html
I am sharing the questions and my responses, here.
1. Where are you as you respond to this, and what are you working on?
I’m at Wrightsville Beach in the condo where my parents used to live, overlooking the ocean. Both of them (Miriam and Dr. Sam Warshauer) passed away in July, and I have been processing that loss, on both the emotional and physical level. They were such a profound influence on my life. I’ve been in Wilmington most of October, helping to prepare for an estate sale in their home, and attending functions where they were remembered such as the Medical Society, the Wilmington Symphony, and the Thursday Morning Music Club.
Also, my husband and I bought a house on Wrightsville Beach last fall, and have been renovating it, so I’ve spent some time with the finishing touches there. We’re about to move in, this week, I hope! We’ll maintain our residence in Columbia, SC, but plan to spend more time here on this beautiful coast. I have a piano in the beach house already, and hope to get back to composing soon. I’ve taken a break the past two months, after completing Ocean Calling III: The Giant Blue, which Norman Bemelmans and Elizabeth Loparits will premiere in February as part of the complete set. I still need to prepare the introductory notes and send it off to the printers to distribute to the other members of the performing consortium for the Ocean Calling series.
2. The natural world/environment has provided inspiration in other works by you. Is there a philosophical-theological source as well that ties it all together?
Yes. Like my Symphony No. 1 Living Breathing Earth, the Ocean Calling series
is inspired by my love of this amazing planet which nourishes us in every breath, in every cell of our being. I feel the holiness and unity of all life, and the sustaining force of a Creator. We can get so caught up in our technological lives (I’m writing this now on a computer, of course) that it’s easy to forget our organic connection to and dependence on the earth. My music, in these works, is both a love song to the earth and a call for us to wake up to the destruction we, as a species, are bringing to our own habitat. In Ocean Calling, I also attune to the creatures of the sea whose well-being is threatened by our careless practices. I imagine it as a call from them to us, as well as a call from our own depths, to awaken to what is true.
3. What specifically stirred your imagination in the new works, Ocean Calling I & II. Did the multimedia component happen simultaneously? How did your daughter become part of the creative process?
Ocean Calling I and II are both inspired by my great love of the ocean. In Ocean Calling I: Waves and Currents, I let my imagination take me back to my childhood, swimming in the surf at Wrightsville Beach, the currents, the breakers, jumping and riding the waves, diving under and bursting back out into the sunshine. The music is active and joyful, with changing meters, lots of interplay between the two performers, and contrasting sustained and dry sounds. A light chain rustles on the vibrating strings to mimic the white noise of the waves.
Program notes on my website for Ocean Calling I:
Ocean Calling II: From the Depths is much quieter, inspired by the mysterious underwater realms where fantastical creatures float and swim among gently waving fronds. To prepare for this composition, I snorkeled off the coast of Puerto Rico and watched many hours of documentary videos from under the sea. I immersed myself in a world which seems far from ours, but which is intricately interwoven with the planetary ecosystem. The music focuses on subtle colors, with one piano exploring “inside the piano” techniques on the strings, including stopped notes, harmonic glissandi, plucking or strumming strings, and striking the strings with a glass. The other piano complements these colors with hints of fragility and lilting flow, contrasted with urgent dramatic movement and nostalgic reflections on what may be or already has been lost.
Program notes on my website for Ocean Calling II:
You ask about the multi-media component. I made some videos of the ocean with my little camera which I watched while writing Ocean Calling I, to help me recall the specific rhythms of the waves, ebb and flow, changing currents, etc. My daughter, Chana Levine, is a professional photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. While visiting us this summer, she was able to take some amazing footage of the ocean which she has edited into three short clips for us to use, interspersed with the music. I’m excited about this collaboration with her!
4. Have you worked directly with the Bemelmans-Loparits Duo in preparing the music? Please talk about any and all aspects of the collaborative process you care to share.
Norman and Elizabeth have been wonderful to work with. They play together so well, and are in tune with each other’s musicianship. We have met several times. Elizabeth is doing the “inside piano” parts, so she and I have gotten together separately, as well. She is very sensitive to the sonorities I am trying to achieve, such as finding the “sweet spot” in harmonic resonance of the strings, or exactly where and how to slide the glass for a harmonic glissando. Norman brings his refined musicianship to the pianistic passages. Both of them also connect deeply with the message of the music—our shared love and concern for the earth and oceans. I am excited about their performance.
5. What do you want listeners to come away with after hearing Ocean Calling?
I hope it will help us re-connect with what we already love. I know people living in and around Wilmington already love the ocean–it goes without saying. What we may not realize is how urgent it is to change the way we as a species relate to the earth and to the ocean. For so long we have assumed the ocean will always be there for us. Now, that is no longer the case. As polar ice caps melt, as trash suffocates large swaths of the sea, as coral reefs are bleached out, we are losing not only what is beautiful, but also what sustains us. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we are give the responsibility to guard the earth. I hope we leave the concert with renewed strength and commitment to guard and restore what has been entrusted to us. We fail to do so at our own peril.