Performance: Joël Evans, oboe; Valentina Charlap-Evans, viola; Ruthanne Schempf, piano
Acadia was written for oboist Joël Evans, in 2004.
“Nana” had worked as a pianist at the little movie theater of our town until the talkies came, then she played for dances and grange halls for many years. When “Nana” was spending her last few months at home in Old Town, Maine, “Mémère” stayed and nursed her daily, caring for her until the end. This was an extraordinarily moving and beautiful thing for a couple of young children to behold! These are the simple songs of memory we learned from them while growing up, and here are Shirley Warren’s comments on her treatment of these treasured pieces:
I grew up (in Ohio) knowing this tune as “Turkey in the Straw,” which is why I call it “Straw Dance.” The slow beginning is a meditation on the old tune, not dance-like in the least. With the change of tempo, we are suddenly back in the dance hall, with a sampling of different steps; I imagine square dances, ragtime, and people simply kicking up their heels, having a good time. With the return of the slow section, we return to the reverie of good times past.
The original folksong is a dialogue between a prisoner and his wife, long separated because of his capture and imprisonment in a foreign land. The lady spends most of the verses describing the lovely songbirds who sing in her father’s garden, but finally admits that she would give almost anything, including her ‘pretty stock-dove,’to have her husband back. The chorus is the prisoner’s repeated declaration of ‘how good it is to sleep next to my blonde.”
My musical rendition of the story describes the loneliness of lovers, or perhaps the loneliness of anyone trying to connect with another human being; By assigning simultaneous time signatures of 3/4 to the piano and 6/8 to the viola, and then adding a languid oboe line playing at half-speed, I attempt to conjure an image of separate, related but barely connected lives, one always in search of the other, with brief periods of union (the chorus sections); the middle section is an idyllic interlude of blessed homophony, brief and sweet, but destined to return to the old pattern of separation.
This is a "rocking song" sung to a new baby, about the little black cat having to "take a back seat" to said baby. It is a simple, catchy tune, which I have manipulated in several ways. The oboe carries the melody, followed in canon first by the viola and then by the piano (which plays only an abbreviated version of the tune). Next the oboe and viola play the tune in inversion, again in canon. Several interludes follow, based upon melodic and rhythmic fragments of the melody. Following a short piano solo, the oboe and viola play the original melody in retrograde (and in canon). This is followed by another "fragmented" section. The melody returns in a different key, followed once more by its inversion. The piece concludes with the oboe and viola making little "meows," in honor of the displaced kitty.
The unfortunate “hero” of the folk-song is a bumbling ‘Sad Sack’ soldier, Cadet Rousselle. Cadet Rousselle is the quintessential loser. He has three of everything, but everything he touches fails. However, in the chorus we are assured that he is, after all, a “good boy.” In my interpretation, poor Cadet Rousselle’s off-balance bumbling and falling is portrayed by ambiguous tonality and a constantly shifting time signature. Toward the end of the piece, Cadet Rousselle seems to be getting his act together. (He is, after all, a good boy.) Things begin to make harmonic sense; happy consonance grows…. and then, inevitably, Cadet Rouselle, tripping rapidly downhill, once again falls flat on his face!
This is the heart and soul of Acadia. Joël’s
memories of “Fais Do-do” are rich and deep. This melody was not only the lullaby
of his childhood, sung by his beloved “Memere,” but was also often played as the
‘last waltz’ at the grange hall dance. In my rendition I use Joel’s lullaby to
conjure images of my own ancient hopes and exotic dreams, the inevitable changes
dealt by life, the deep places where the oldest memories dwell and finally, the
reconciliation of dream and life.