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As the fireflies watched

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James Stephenson

James Stephenson


The title of this work is correctly written all in lower case: as the fireflies watched


General Info

Year: 2020
Duration: C. 19:05
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Stephenson Music
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $185.00; (digital) - $185.00   |   Score Only (print) - $40.00


Movements

1. dusk - 4:20
2. the gift - 1:50
3. in another life - 6:10
4. pavane - 5:50


Instrumentation

Full Score
Solo Tenor Voice
Flute
Bassoon
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet
String Bass
Piano
Percussion I-II, including:

  • Cabasa
  • Chimes
  • Crotales (bowed)
  • Kick Drum
  • Marimba (5 octave)
  • Ride Cymbal
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tambourines (mounted and held)
  • Tam-tam
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Wood slab

Cello


Errata

None discovered thus far.


Program Notes

Usually, when asked to produce a new work celebrating the 100th anniversary of an institution, one might expect a more celebratory result, in order to honor the occasion. I am so grateful, for personal reasons, that director Catherine Rand allowed me to write the piece of my choosing. Because what follows had to come out, and needed to be written.

Everything scored in this piece is written in memory and in honor of my father. Even every instrument chosen is in some way related to him. My mother -- his wife of nearly 53 years -- played the flute in high school. My father played the saxophone and bassoon in high school. Trumpet was my instrument, which he/they supported entirely. My dad had a dance band in college, hence the use of two percussionists and a bass. His main instrument was piano, which I heard him play almost every day in our living room. Later in life, he picked up the cello. And finally, he was a tenor in many choirs throughout his life.

My childhood was a completely happy one. I received no arguments in whatever endeavor I chose, and most notably, my musical interests were wholeheartedly supported from the day I picked up a trumpet. Music would become something my father and I would discuss the most often whenever we got together.

With all of that being said, it was impossible for me to write this piece without the doses of sadness that accompany it throughout. I always imagined that after my "most busy years" of child-raising and professional intensity were behind me, that my dad and I would find time to get together and hang out, as fathers and sons ought to. However, my mother passed away in 2016, and he was never quite the same thereafter. Furthermore, it was the very morning after we were together for what should have been a true highlight of my career -- a world premiere with the Chicago Symphony -- that we awoke to the news that he had had a major stroke.

He was nearly completely debilitated, and the next year was an emotional, physical and mental challenge unlike anything I was prepared to handle. He died in April of 2020, and it is this reason that my memories of life with dad will -- at least for now -- forever be colored by the experiences of the last few years of his life.

And therefore, the following four-movement work evolved as such:

I. dusk. Memories of my Midwestern childhood, and playing catch with dad in the yard. We would stay out until I could barely see the ball anymore. And there were always fireflies. They are etched into the image in my mind forever.

Do you remember!?
Do you remember the yard:
how it would call us at dusk:
The ball arched, I begged: Higher, Higher, higher still.
The evening aged, and the only knowledge
of our nocturnal pastime was the sounds of our gloves.
The echoes of those nights formed my soul.
The outline of your being formed my soul.
The memories take their toll.

As the fireflies watched.

There. There. There.


II. the gift. Dad was beyond smart. He invented a synthesizer! (back before they existed). He built our church organ -- from scratch --which is still there nearly 60 years later. He started a company and employed 200 people at its height. This is a short movement, and there is no way I could have found all of the necessary words to describe just what a kind, gentle, and intelligent man he was. The music is set into an electronic-machine kind of character, representing the company he founded, and the engineering brain he possessed. I did include "'Er 'tis" in there -- which is something he said, which to this day I have no idea what it means. And he would always snap his fingers when he couldn't figure something out. Which wasn't often.

Here's. What. You. Were:

Prepared, focused, and so curious.
Laziness would often make you furious
Talented and oh so musical
And you never gave an excuse at all

You were true to your family and your morals
Never seeking any kind of laurels
Hardworking, electronical
Often smiled but not too comical

("Er 'tis", you would say)

Mmm… But so smart, so smart, so smart,
Smart, smart, smart smart!

Dedicated, patient and a genius,
Gentle, Loving, even sometimes Mean? Yes!
Creative and entrepreneurial
Calm and staid and never mercurial

Your work was clothed in passion
Though you weren't the best at fashion
Thoughtful and oh so kind
Though your humor was hard to find

("Er 'tis", you would say)

Mmm… But so smart, so smart, so smart,

Smart, smart, smart smart!


III. in another life. Even though dad had an electrical engineering degree and ran a company, his first love was always music. He would always come home after work, lie on the floor for several minutes, arms folded across his chest, and then go to the piano and play some favorite show-tunes, or requests that we might throw his way. When I got old enough to hold my own on the trumpet, I would always play tunes with him. He had a knack for playing with such innate beauty and musicality. Therefore, this movement is a departure from the "classical" format, but a most important one. It is admittedly a Broadway-esque show tune, featuring solo tenor with piano, with accompanying cello and flugelhorn at times (representing dad and me). The text portrays my frustration at not getting more time with him, so as to do and tell him the things I wish I could have.

I wish I Could control it.
I wish that I'd been told that
Our time would not be ours to plan,
And you'd not understand
How things unfolded.
I did my best to help you,
After this test befell you,
And life had thrown you a new norm,
Your mind would not conform, and now I want to tell you:

Chorus:

In another life,
I'd still be seeking your reflections
And beseeching your directions
For how to beat this strife,
That has made us both so damn afflicted,
Leaving me the one conflicted.
What do I do?

Since when I was so young,
We've had this special bond
With music.
But now that you are gone,
I shouldn’t wait too long
To do this.
I give to you this song,
To you it does belong
From your son.

I thought it would seem wrong
To gush and carry on
When in person.
I tried to be so strong, but now must wait 'til dawn, in another life.

(Repeat):
I did my best to help you,
After this test befell you,
and life had taken a new turn,
Your body would not learn,
and now I want to tell you:

Chorus:

In another life,
I'd still be seeking your reflections,
And beseeching your directions
For how we can survive.

This has made us both so damn afflicted,
Leaving me the one conflicted.
What do I do?

Mmm. In another life.
Mmm. In another life.

I tried to be strong
But now must wait 'til dawn,
To see you

In another life.


IV. Pavane. I borrowed some of this music from my guitar concerto, which was written in the midst of his poststroke life. This was some of the most painful, but sometimes most beautiful, times in our last few years. We would spend hours together, where he couldn't express the words he wanted to say, and I would often have to help him to do the most everyday tasks. This strange intimacy is also etched into my brain. And so the solo cello part is scored in such a way to sound beautiful and (rhythmically) confused, while the music struggles to find its home key. The text is from Shakespeare's most famous sonnet: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"). The traditional dance of a "pavane" seemed a good way to hearken dad's traditional values, his deeply compromised brain, and our "dance" in trying to figure out how to move forward in this new reality. Ultimately, this entire piece is just a son trying to express his love for his dad.

From Shakespeare: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade.
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st.
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
when in eternal lines to Time thou growst.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see.
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

There.


Ultimately, this entire piece is just a son trying to express his love for his dad.

- Program Note by composer


Media

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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


Performances

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  • University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg) Wind Ensemble (Catherine Rand, conductor; Jonathan Yarrington, tenor) - 22 April 2021


Works for Winds by This Composer

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