The Angel of Chomutov

Angel copy

Photo: Marilyn Herman 2018.  Angel – from a monument in Chomutov for protection against the bubonic plague.

In April 1945, my father, Abraham Herman, and his brother, David Herman, were prisoners on a forced death march from Rehmsdorf to Theresienstadt.  When they crossed over from Germany into the Czech Sudetenland, in the town of Chomutov, Czech bystanders were throwing food to the prisoners, but there would be such a scramble, the bread would break up, and nobody would get any.  (I have very recently visited Chomutov, and interviewed some people who lived through WWII.  They informed me that during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, ethnic Czechs and ethnic Poles were effectively subjected to a policy of slow starvation – with food rationing enforced to a degree that it was not possible to live on the rations alone.)  The German guards threatened to shoot anyone who gave the prisoners food. One heroic, defiant young woman ran inside the line of prisoners, placed bread firmly into Abraham’s hands, and as she ran back out, a German guard smashed the butt of his rifle down on her head.  In all likelihood, she never got up again.

I am composing a work to commemorate this unknown Czech heroine.  I was scouring poetry and psalms for words, and even ordered an anthology of Czech poetry with translation.  Finally, I decided to use my own words:

 

The Angel of Chomutov

 

To risk your life

to give bread

to a suffering child

Not knowing if he would live

another hour

another minute

 

To give your life

not knowing

if all he would live to know

was that you risked your life

to give him bread

 

Most precious of gifts

More than all the garnet of Bohemia

all the gems of Moravia

Your bread – bestower of life

 

To risk your life

not knowing

that the last thing you would do

would be to give bread

to another woman’s starving child

 

To give your life

to show a tortured child

Life almost extinguished

by forces of darkest destruction

To show this captive child

the precious value of his life

 

Tower

Photo:  Marilyn Herman 2018.  Chomutov 

 

Music by Contemporary Women Composers

Music by contemporary catherine

Including my “Vocalise” for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet in Bb.  (My surname only has one of each letter!)  Called “Vocalise” because I set out to write a “Vocalise” for voice and clarinet – but it took on a life of its own (as these things do), and became a work more suited to instrumental forces – winds.  But I retained the title.  I can’t wait to hear it performed by these superb musicians!  And I love the atmosphere of the venue!

If there is a soprano out there who feels she would like to give the flute part a go, that would be great too!  I would love to hear that!

Also, great that this concert is contributing towards putting women composers on the map.  Women have been grossly ignored in the world of classical composition throughout its history.  Today, when there is no shortage of women composers, there is no excuse.  Just a couple or so years ago, not a single work by a woman composer was played throughout the entire summer prom series!  And in the days when massive CD stores were still gracing the West End’s main streets (London), I went into the largest classical CD section to be found in a CD store in London (Tottenham Court Road) and could not find a single CD featuring works by women composers.

At One

stunning night view

The Holy Isle – stupas, pier, view of Arran

At One

For string quartet and trumpet.

This work was written by me, with the idea of bestowing healing and calmness – a feeling of being at one with the world.  It is strongly influenced by jazz, in style, and also in method of composition.  I started this composition by setting out chords on the strings, and improvising over them for the trumpet part – this provides the opening of the piece.

In the very last section, the trumpeter has the option of either playing the pre-written part, or of improvising within specified parameters over the strings, which play the same chords as in the opening of the piece. In this performance, the trumpeter has chosen to improvise.  You can hear the abrupt change in melodic style at this point!  Until the final bar which was pre-written.

Performed here by the Impromptu Quartet and Clare Thorne on trumpet, at Lauderdale House, London, 2012. 

 

Swing Abeba

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 03.47.29My first love from early childhood was music: classical piano-playing, and singing (especially folk), accompanying myself on my beloved guitar.

However, it was social anthropology that I took to doctoral level, and as a way of not letting go of music, I specialised in the anthropology of music.

During my doctoral fieldwork, I performed with an Ethiopian-Jewish band called “The Band of Blossoming Hope” for 9 months.  (See my book:  Gondar’s Child.)  I also had lessons with the famous Ethiopian Christian singer Aklilu Seyoum, who coached the Band, in the Ethiopian intervallic mood-mode systems known as “keñetoch”.

Prior to this, I conducted research on Jewish society and music in Yemen, and wrote a substantial thesis on this subject.  Very many hours were spent listening to, analysing, and even painstakingly and painfully transcribing their music, and other kinds of Yemenite music.

Perhaps it was Ethiopian music, and also the American blues singers who frequented the folk clubs in Israel, which opened me up to jazz. Upon returning from my fieldwork to the UK, for years to follow, jazz became my passion. I studied with established jazz vocalists, performing at jazz jams, working hard on my vocal improvisation and learning the standard repertoire. Among the early tasks I was set was to sing along with recordings of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-playing: a great training!  In my quest for jazz, I went to Manhattan where I attended lessons and vocal masterclasses, went to all the jazz jams and performances I could manage, and generally infused myself with jazz.

I am glad to say I finally returned to “my own” music and first love. I resumed my classical piano playing, and took it to another level – the most meaningful thing I feel I could have done with my life!

Years ago, I told a jazz musician about my background in music – all these diverse intensely-studied and deeply-internalised influences – and he said: “It will be dynamite when it all comes together!”.

Swing Abeba, a work for solo bassoon, is an example of some of these influences coming together.  Whether or not it is “dynamite” – even a small quantity of dynamite – even a teaspoonful, is for the listener, or player, to determine!

“Abeba”, means “flower” – part of the name of the Ethiopian capital city where modern Ethiopian music took root. “Abeba” is also a common refrain in their vocal music. True to its title, this work is influenced by Ethiopian popular music, which in turn was strongly influenced by swing rhythm in American big band jazz transmitted from an army radio station in Kagnew, in neighbouring Eritrea in the 1950s.

Ethiopian music – essentially song-based – consists of pentatonic melodies which tend to be deeply embedded in copious melismata, progressing in an improvisatory manner, similarly to jazz.

Accordingly, Swing Abeba begins with an Ethiopian, pentatonically melismatic treatment of an un-Ethiopian theme.  The music then breaks into a jazz-swing scherzo. The call-response nature of this scherzo recalls this feature of Ethiopian music. The second section begins with a slow, heavily melismatic ad lib passage marked “molto espressivo e pensivo”, which leads into a second swing scherzo, the opening themes reappearing in a different guise in the closing section.

In the recording here, it is played beautifully by John McDougall.  An earlier version of Swing Abeba was performed, equally beautifully, by Glyn Williams at the 17th New Winds Festival at Regent Hall in London, 2014.

 

 

Protected: Concert In Aid Of Refugees

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Michal 06 for Solo Clarinet at l’klectik Art Lab

18th London Wind sept 2015 new yellow

My work for solo clarinet, Michal 06, will be performed again on Tuesday October 13th, at l’klectik Art Lab, London SE1, by Phil Edwards. He performed it so beautifully and gave it more than I could have imagined, last month at Regent Hall. He has completely made it his own. The acoustics of the venue were amazing, which brought out polyphonies in the piece I haven’t heard in it before, and which I couldn’t have anticipated when writing it! I’m thrilled that he’s performing it again!

A clarinet performance, and a protest against compression!

Embed from Getty Images

I found this image of a clarinet next to a precariously tipped glass of martini, on Getty images. I would be rather worried if I were the owner of that clarinet….

I have written a work for solo clarinet called “Michal 06”.  It will be receiving a second performance on 18th September in London, at the New Winds Festival, played by Phil Edwards.  I’m not sure yet of the venue, but will keep you posted.  Please keep this date free for this, and newer works for winds.

Michal 06 starts off as jazz, then progressing into a section based on oriental-style modes, which in turn progresses into a section which is Impressionistic in character. Although these three styles are so contrasting, the transition from one into the other seems seamless and natural. In the final section, these three styles are fused.

You can hear a recording of Michal 06 played most beautifully by Phil Edwards here:

If you’re thinking:  I’ve heard it now, so there’s no point in coming to the recital, my answer to you is:  not so!!!  Now it’s familiar, you’ll enjoy the performance more, and you’ll be getting the live, visual, compression-free experience.  Martini:  I think you’ll need to bring your own.

Speaking of compression:  I’m starting to think it should be outlawed!  I understand completely why so many people are reverting to vinyl, and am so pleased that I have kept my vinyl collection.  I used to feel music played on my record player with all my being, and now, with mp3s, it’s as if it’s all 2D instead of 3D.  My priority, as soon as I have the space, is to get a really good sound system, and to do away with mp3 recordings as far as possible.  It’s so convenient to be able to listen to Youtube recordings or to go to Naxos, but for the listening experience, I think it was far more worthwhile to make a trip to the music library, incur huge fines, etc. in order to take out LPs or even CDs.  Surely performers and composers want people to hear their music at its best, and not all compressed and flattened and deadened.  They could start refusing to allow their music to appear in mp3 format – but only really established artistes could really afford to do that.

In the meantime, it seems a whole generation has only ever heard compressed mp3 recordings, except when they go to live concerts.  How sad is that?!!!