for voices viola, Harmonic Canon, Cloud-Chamber Bowls and Bass Marimba (2017)

Harry Partch's Bass Marimba Photo by Melia Watras

Harry Partch's Bass Marimba
Photo by Melia Watras


World Premiere: Michael Jinsoo Lim, actor I and singer; Garth Knox, actor II; Sean Harvey, actor III; Melia Watras, viola; Charles Corey, Harmonic Canon and Bass Marimba; March 11, 2018, Seattle, WA

Duration: 21:40

Program Notes:
When the Harry Partch Instrumentarium arrived at the University of Washington in 2014, I couldn’t believe it! The extraordinary sounds that Partch created, and the original instruments that Partch thought of as people, were now living merely 2 floors down from my office at the School of Music.

Over the next few years, I had the good fortune to perform some short works by Harry Partch with Charles Corey, director of the Partch Instrumentarium. This experience fueled my desire to compose for the instruments.

As I thought about the piece I would write, the ancient and timeless colors of the Partch instruments brought the Latin word imago to my mind, and the layered meanings this word would have to an Ancient Roman, as illuminated to me in discussions with Catherine Connors, UW Professor and Chair of Classics. One facet of imago is the reference to funeral masks that were hung in the homes of Roman nobles and used in funeral processions by coffin bearers. This connection between realms made me wonder about my own string ancestors.

I asked my close friend Sean Harvey, who I met when we both were studying as undergraduates at Indiana University, if he would write a text for the work. We chose seven string luminaries to be our subject matter: Josef Gingold, Eugène Ysaÿe, William Primrose, Ginette Neveu, Niccolò Paganini, Arcangelo Corelli, and Giuseppe Tartini (listed in order of appearance in the story), each of whom changed the course of strings in their own way.

String Masks is written lovingly to the seven string luminaries and with many thanks to Catherine Connors, Charles Corey, Sheila Daniels, Jose Gonzales, Sean Harvey, Richard Karpen, Garth Knox, Michael Jinsoo Lim, Danlee Mitchell, Doug Niemela, Marcin Pączkowski, Rhonda J. Soikowski, Bonnie Whiting and to Harry Partch.

—Melia Watras

Close up of Harry Partch's Bass Marimba Photo by Melia Watras

Close up of Harry Partch's Bass Marimba
Photo by Melia Watras