Chamber Music by Michael Mauldin
I grew up surrounded by the belief that nature was created. That it was created primarily for man to use and dominate, a kind of "manifest destiny" for the whole planet. When I was young, it didn't occur to me to question such an entitlement. Instead I questioned myself, and nature.
It took a lifetime to see that my early fascination with magical places, where the spirit of nature and the spirit of man interact with mutual reverence, was more than childish sentimentality. I finally recognized it as child-like wisdom, an unpolluted trace of the still, small voice of "all that is."
These pieces span a 15-year period, during which time I slowly learned to trust that wisdom--with my mind, as well as my heart. I know--not just sense--that man is a vital part of the eyes, ears and voice of the earth. It is as his own body, to which he must attend.
MOUNTAIN WINDS: EPISODES FOR FLUTE, OBOE AND HARP was commissioned by and dedicated to the Ensemble of Santa Fe. Carol Redman (flute), Thomas O'Connor (oboe) and Rosalind Simpson (harp) premiered the work in Santa Fe in 1986 and made this studio recording the next year.
The four movements are entitled "North," "South," "East" and "West." Of the premiere performance the SANTA FE REPORTER said, "With its characteristic and grateful instrumental writing and attractive, expansive melodies, it revealed Mauldin's keen descriptive power and ability to paint wholly convincing tonal pictures, descriptive of the winds that blow from the four cardinal points of the compass."
CANYON LIGHT: FOUR SCENES FOR WOODWIND QUINTET was commissioned by the New Mexico Woodwind Quintet, which premiered the work in 1990. This recording is from a performance by the group in 1999: Jessica Truax (flute), MaryAnn Shore (oboe), Lori Lovato (clarinet), Leslie Shultis (bassoon) and Beth Scott (horn).
The piece was inspired by a river-rafting trip I took with my sons, Kendall and Kevin, at Moab, Utah. It was August, after our official family vacation. My wife couldn't go, so I took the boys, who must have thought their father insane for taking them to the canyon lands that time of year. But the magic of the cooling white-water, the colors of the canyons and child's play on sandy beaches made it a treasured experience for all three of us.
The first movement, "Morning Prayers," recalls the moment of making peace with the cathedral-like canyon, before riding the Colorado River. "River Music" is full of white-water thrills and wonderful, quiet moments when the river is deep and slow, as we float beside the raft. "Shimmering Heat" recalls the surreal light effects from rising heat. In "Sunset" there is a sense of urgency to take in as much as possible of the beauty of the rich light on the landscape before night falls. The energy we get from that beauty is real. Not a just a fleeting mood, it sustains mind, body and spirit.
THREE SONGS FOR SAXOPHONE AND PIANO was commissioned by the University of New Mexico for saxophonist Carrie Koffman and pianist Lawrence Blind, who premiered it in 1999. This recording is from a performance they gave in 2003. I knew both performers and loved their playing, which is both expert and communicative. So I decided to make the piece a set of "songs" that were both adroit and human.
"Call and Lament" refers to a situation in my own life, but also to the plight of us all, in our regret at not having made our love and acceptance known early enough or clearly enough to someone who dies or goes away. "Lullaby" comes from the peaceful feeling one gets from gently stroking a child to sleep, an experience I had with my own children and other people's children in my care. It is a sacred act, not manipulation. A bit before I was working on the third movement, the boy choir I conducted (Larry Blind was the accompanist) performed a piece called "Reel a Bouche," a fun piece of nonsense syllables. It was a reference to the old custom of singers providing lively music for dancing when no instrumentalists were around. I was inspired by the delight the boys took in sharing the infectious, earthy joy of the piece.
A'TS'INA: PLACE OF WRITINGS ON THE ROCK was commissioned by the Placitas Artists Series for Willy Sucre and Friends: Krzysztof Zimowski and Joan Wang (violins), Willy Sucre (viola) and Joan Zucker ('cello), who premiered the work in 2002. This recording is a studio recording made in 2003 by the Nevsky String Quartet, St Petersburg: Tatiana Razumova and Svetlana Grinfeld (violins), Vladimir Bistritsky (viola) and Dmitry Khrychev ('cello).
My wife and I bought and fenced 20 acres of Zuni-Mountain land, to allow it to recover from years of overgrazing. It's near El Morro National Monument, or "Inscription Rock," as it is better known in New Mexico. On outings to the land, we took family and friends to see the writings at El Morro-boasts of explorers, Indian petroglyphs, names and comments by early settlers. At first, I barely noticed the ruins at the top of the rock, and the circular box-canyon behind it. But for several years I've been fascinated by the "presence" I feel at A'ts'ina, the ancient, sacred Zuni city atop El Morro, and drawn by the petroglyphs' communication of the mundane and the spiritual.
This piece comes from my imagining of life there in the 1200's, and from the place's spiritual power today. The title of the first movement, "The Spirit That Wants Me," was the name of an anthology of testimonials by all kinds of creative people who had migrated to New Mexico. All non-natives, we were asked to share what impact the place had on our creative output. The project's title caught my attention. My essay, "Beyond the Four Hills," bore witness to years of sacred interaction that I barely recognized as such at the time. "Starlight on Trees" is a simple, elegant "moment musicale," which came all at once, a mental framing of a nighttime walk in the Zuni Mountains.
"The Old Man and the Boy" is about the affectionate companionship of a man too old to go on the hunt, and a boy too young. While the men were gone hunting, the two spent many days exploring, talking, enjoying each other's closeness. Such relationships, viewed now with suspicion and intolerance, were valued as natural and healthy then. The "old man" in the boy, and the "boy" in the old man, had more in common than outward appearance suggested. There was mutual reverence, which is why the relationship was sacred (and why the second theme of the movement is somewhat hymn-like).
"Raiders in the West" broods on the very real threat that these settlements had from marauders, often coming from the west, who took the villagers' possessions and the women and children. "Sanctuary in Box Canyon" reflects the feelings of those who hid there, a safe place, yet open to the sky. Open to "the great powers that move between earth and sky (Peggy Pond Church, THE HOUSE AT OTOWI BRIDGE, University of New Mexico Press)." The circular box canyon, with its dramatic spire in the middle, resembles a huge, naturally-formed kiva, or ceremonial room, with no roof but the heavens. "Circling Spirit" brings together all the characters, including the place itself, surrounded and energized by the earth spirit.
Of the premiere, Joanne Sheehy Hoover said in the ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL, "Though Mauldin called its six movements 'unabashedly programmatic,' the music moved far beyond literal description. Filtered through his sensibility, the landscape triggered a highly personal language. He subtly used elements of American Indian music, like small repetitive themes, to evoke a sense of things ancient, hallowed. It was a lovely work, full of space and spirit."