Music for 2 Harpsichords: Fall Colors of New England
Three Ballet Suites -
I. Gold Leaves of October
II. Orange Leaves of November
III. Red Leaves of December
In December of 2008 Shelter of Clear Light Music received an anonymous letter that contained the music manuscript and the story of the music offered here. The letter in part reads:
"…. I was traveling in New England during the fall of 2008. It was mid October when I stopped in the Hudson River Valley town of New Paltz. I found my way to a side street which still contains a row of homes built in the late 1600's by the Huguenots who had fled the Old World and come to America to be able to freely practice their religion. While strolling down the winding street I was immersed in the beauty of the legendary fall colors of the trees. Leaves were already turning to shades of yellow, gold, pink, orange and red.
It was a clear mild day, a cool wind ebbed and flowed, causing the leaves to shimmer and dance, rock and sway, gently and with an ever-changing hum of subtle melodies. Occasional flurries of bird song would erupt joyously and just as suddenly disappear.
After my dream-like solitary walk, I went back towards the village and took a short cut along a narrow old side street. I noticed a small antique shop along the way and a few old looking musical instruments - a battered violin and a wooden flute caught my attention.
The elderly owner noticed me gazing at the instruments and asked if I wanted to come in and look at them. Upon entering the shop I quickly realized that the instruments were of no special value or interest. But as I turned to leave I noticed in the far back corner of the shop an old wooden toolbox. The owner said, "Oh, that is not for sale, but you can look at it if you wish. It is a tool box handed down in my family for generations, and is said to have belonged to an original resident of New Paltz." Upon opening it, I saw that it contained a few 17th century woodworking tools.
I asked, "Do you know anything about the maker of this box?" He answered, "Just a little. It is said he was a master cabinetmaker and a musician as well. He came along with the original Huguenots, but was considered to be very odd due to his unorthodox beliefs and behavior. Yet he could fashion anything out of wood and he also made musical instruments - violins, wooden flutes, and is said to have made himself a harpsichord that he played with great ability."
I picked up an old oak hand drill. I noticed a tiny seam in the wood and unscrewed the handle. The owner said, "I never knew that the drill had a hidden compartment." At the very bottom was a rolled up piece of parchment, tied with a small piece of wire. The owner and I unrolled the parchment and on it was written a note:
"One-half a league from my cabin, along the stream going in a northerly direction, there are two large granite stones. One is flat on the earth and the other rests at a perpendicular, pointing up to the sky. Between the stones, buried 24 inches in the ground, is an iron box containing something of great interest and import. Whoever may someday find this note, it is my wish that you may seek out this box and examine its contents."
I said, "This is just like a 19th century novel, something right out of Alexander Dumas! Do you have any idea what he is talking about?"
"No, but I think I know where his old cabin was. We can go there and check it out."
We drove to a narrow road that skirted the Shawungunk Mountains and stopped at a place where a plaque marked the original location of the cabin. We trekked along the still running stream nearby and after an hour or so came upon two large granite stones that fit the description in the note. Using a small shovel, we began digging, and, at exactly 24 inches depth, the shovel uncovered a solid, rusting, but still largely intact, iron box. We brought it up and after tapping it several times with the shovel, were able to open it.
Within was no treasure, but it did contain a thick folio of parchment, completely sealed in wax. With great excitement we went back to the antique store where the owner carefully opened it. It read:
"I write this in my native English language, so that the French speaking people of the town cannot read it, should they find it. It is a record of something so amazing that were I to tell it to a single soul, I am sure I would be completely ostracized or even worse.
The year was 1689 when I came upon the two ancient Red Oak trees. They were noble giants, about 5 feet in diameter and perhaps 100 feet tall. They had been hollowed out by a lightening fire and badly burned, but somehow still had many branches bearing leaves far above the burnt out trunk.
Everything was oddly burned away except for an intact semi-circle of the trunk. A thin, almost horizontal piece of wood remained. I tapped the wood and it immediately resonated with the sweetest tone imaginable. Both trees, within an arm's length of one another, had been burned in a similar way. The second tree's horizontal piece of wood also resonated, but the tone was an almost perfect octave lower than the tone of the first tree.
I came every day during October, November and December. Just to listen. The slightest wind, even a single leaf dropping, or a bird landing, would start the resonance. Numerous small branches, of different lengths and thickness, would vibrate with sweet and wild melodies each time the sounding boards of the trees were activated.
Their 'music' is of course unlike anything of our music of today. No minuets, passepieds, sarabandes, allemandes or gigues. No courantes or bourrees. The music changed moment by moment, would start and stop, then rush ahead, only to disappear into silence. As the leaves changed colors - from gold to orange to red - the music also grew more wild and intense. At times it was playful and teasing. Then without warning the trees would throb with vibrant intensity as the wind whipped the branches. Flocks of leaves would fall to the ground and just as suddenly swirl upward again as if seeking their home in heaven....
Before coming to America, I was fully trained by my father in musical arts. So each night, after spending the afternoon by the singing trees, I came to my harpsichord and tried to notate what I had heard that day. Although very difficult, here within these parchments, are 30 pieces for two harpsichords. There 10 pieces each for October, November and December.
I am not sure what this all portends, but when I hear them I am at times transported back to the forest, and hear the wild music of the trees, their shimmering leaves, the ebb and flow of the wind, and the birds' harbinger songs of the coming winter." ....
Music and original story by Jeffrey Goodman Copyright © 2009.
Music and original story by Jeffrey Goodman
Los Angeles, California