MELIA WATRAS: SEEING CYPRESSES WITH CATHERINE C.
for recorded voice (2017)
World Premiere: Catherine Connors, recorded voice; April 17, 2019, Seattle, WA
Seeing Cypresses with Catherine C. was inspired by the wondrous scholar Catherine Connors and her essay Seeing Cypresses in Virgil. I came to know Catherine, head of the Classics department at the University of Washington, in 2015, after asking her for some assistance with speaking Latin in a piece I was writing at the time that drew from Virgil’s Aenied.
Catherine’s essay and our conversations excited my imagination and desire to explore ancient worlds and words, echoes through time and the ancients’ thoughts on music. I was taken by their belief that we don’t create music, we remember it; it already exists beyond us.
This became a central idea in Seeing Cypresses with Catherine C., which I created in the form of whispering roots: ancient words from poems that help shape civilization and continue as part of the cycle of life. These “roots” are spoken, sotto voce, throughout the length of the piece. The number 7 is an important figure in this work, corresponding to the number of strings on Orpheus’s lyre. To the ancients, each string represented a different sphere.
The text for this piece was generated from Catherine’s essay; from Virgil, Ovid and Martial, as quoted or referred to by Catherine. The expressive quality, shape and timbre of Catherine’s voice, as well as the rhythm of the quotes influenced the architecture of the piece.
Seeing Cypresses with Catherine C. is part of my Folk Style Project. The electronic techniques used in this piece are a nod to the past and in some way, they are a reflection on the earliest, “folk” methods of electronic music. Doug Niemela, who handled the technical aspects of the piece, recorded Catherine with ribbon microphones, similar to ones that were used in the crooner era by singers like Frank Sinatra.
Many thanks to Catherine and Doug.