i wish i could draw a dragon
solo viola and flute ensemble
duration: 6′ 30″
i wish i could draw a dragon was commissioned and premiered by the Flexible Orchestra, Tara Simoncic, conductor, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in New York City on October 16, 2009
i wish i could draw a dragon began with a memory, or more precisely, a bunch of memories squashed together. I remember drawing as a child. I remember a feeling of liberation, I remember the intensity of my focus and I also remember a deep sense of frustration. My drawings never seemed to come out like the pictures in my head (which were vague but always fantastic), or like my older brother’s drawings, which I held to be the gold standard of artistic excellence. I remember trying over and over again to draw the shape of a man’s head. And I remember trying to draw rats and snakes and lots of dragons, monsters and dinosaurs.
I began this piece with all of these thoughts in my head; I wanted to convey both the beautiful intensity and frustration that I remembered as well as the physical sense of sketching, of drawing line after similar line. I even tried sketching a dragon and recording the sound of the marks on the page and using that as a basis for the viola part. But of course, as I worked on the piece, I couldn’t quite get what I wanted. I found myself restarting and restarting, writing the same musical line over and over again. I rejected 15 different versions of the opening 30 seconds. And at a certain point I realized the obvious irony that I was doing the same thing I did 20 years ago, and that this was what the piece was supposed to be about in the first place. And realizing this, I was able to embrace the bumps, restarts and failed attempts that I normally try to hide as I am putting a piece together and polishing it. I found myself particularly enjoying the expressiveness of redoing the same thing again and again in slightly different ways. And out of this jumble came four short movements, a little like four different sketches of the same thing.
Something about trying to draw a dragon with 11 flutes and viola instead of say, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets and percussion seems appropriate to the struggles of childhood and the imagination of children.