Le Maître Du Marteau (2009)
and eight instruments: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, horn, tuba, piano and percussion - 10 mins.
My mother died recently, and I have been trying to figure out why I reacted by immediately composing music for accordion and eight instruments. And such a rock’em sock’em piece, my mother was a very gentle person. She was very much the lady: polite, motherly, quiet, and GENTLE. However, this wasn’t true when she sang. She was a Jazz singer with a huge voice. She always stopped the room and, upon finishing a song, would always get a howling ovation – she seemed to be able to unify the entire room. So maybe this piece is my mother’s huge voice, which she used to belt out jazz and discipline her seven kids.
But accordion? I do remember her singing along with the strolling accordion player that she hired to perform at one of my sister’s wedding receptions, but that really was only one instance of her singing with an accordion. Although, I guess the accordion might have something to do with my Milwaukee roots: Polka bands at Polish weddings, most of which I attended with my folks when I was a kid, probably dancing with my mom at some point during the party. But still – an accordion, within such a serious, bombastic atmosphere?
When my dad died a while back, I responded the same way: I composed – what else can I do? I went to my studio and set two of Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets for choir and piano solo, By Night My Mind (1998). It is a very warm, harmonically rich piece, which makes this accordion piece all the more bewildering – why so pretty for my macho father and then so tough for my gentle mother?
I think we can hear it in the opening two sounds: BAM-BAM followed by practically nothing – just a sustained accordion, marked flat line in the score. I not only loved my parents, but I liked them and they liked me. We were adult friends: joking, eating & drinking, lots of teasing and fast conversation. I ribbed my father constantly about being a complex ridden psychiatrist and a lousy golfer or just because he was skinny and mostly full of boloney. He teased me back – gave as good as he got – better, actually. And for nearly my whole life, I was my mother’s accompanist. I gigged with my mother, performing with one or another of her bands, or often just the two of us, not just bars and nightclubs, but sometimes big halls, as well as every time I went home - in the parlor. She was always very nervous before she sang, but then she’d hit the first big note and BAM-BAM: all was right with the world. New musicians, who would play with her band were always told to “watch her foot” by the older guys, the ones who had performed with her for decades. The band was always a little in the dark about where she was going with a song, but then they’d “watch her foot:” BAM-BAM – and the whole place would explode.
My “professional” collaboration with my mother started when I was pretty young: I remember getting dragged out of bed when I was 11 or 12 to accompany her during a party – me in my jamies, my parents and their friends in bourbon and gin. We did our final tune on Easter Sunday 2009 a week before she died, it was LOVER MAN: she was 90 and deeply ruined by Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember the words, but her pitch and, especially, rhythm were still absolutely perfect. She had to die to lose those gifts. So I guess I miss my parents – a whole lifetime of camaraderie and affection, then BAM-BAM: nothing – flat line. Nothing left but an accordion.