Looking at Spring: Meditations on Aging

I. Mornings
II. Nobody Dies Anymore
III. Boyfriends
IV. Water and Waves
V. Deadlines
VI. Child of the Blister
VII. With Grandchildren
VIII. Juice
IX. Terminal Cars
X. 98 in October
XI. As Long As I Remember My Children
XII. My Sandbox
XIII. A Paradoxical Thing
XIV. I Think of Aging as Being the Long Ritardando
XV. Last Uncle Left

a song cycle for soprano, violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano and optional reader

text by Liza Balkan, based on interviews with senior citizens living in Toronto and Central Vermont

duration: 42 Minutes

Looking at Spring was commissioned and premiered by Scrag Mountain Music at First Light Studios in Randolph, VT on May 30, 2014

An animated version of Movement 2: Nobody Dies Anymore:

Complete audio:

Video excerpts:

Excerpt I, Movements 2 – 4:

Excerpt II, Movement 11:

Excerpt III, Movement 7:

Excerpt IV, Movement 13:

Program Notes:

Looking at Spring: Meditations on Aging was commissioned in 2014 by Scrag Mountain Music, whose artistic directors, soprano Mary Bonhag and double bassist Evan Premo, are musicians I deeply respect, in addition to being longtime friends. At Scrag, a concert series in central Vermont, Mary and Evan have built a powerful and unusual sense of community around their adventurous concerts, and it was community that I first thought about as I began to work on this piece. I knew I wanted to work on this project with another close friend, the librettist, actress and director Liza Balkan. We shared an interest in creating art through documentary processes, and an interest in the stories of older people—I had previously written several pieces based on interviews with my grandmother. We decided to begin by conducting a series of interviews with senior citizens, a group of people that, as Liza says, are often not listened to well, about the aging process. I was particularly interested in the way that rituals in life emerge as we age, but Liza, who conducted these interviews in her hometown of Toronto as well as in Warren, Vermont, was totally open. She would start with two simple questions: “How old are you?” and “What is that like?” and then listen. And in most cases, this was enough for the stories and conversation to flow. From long recordings, Liza pulled out poetic passages that seemed to express the core of what a person was saying. A few of the fifteen texts that we chose ended up as multi-page poems, and one was just one line: a woman with an early stage of dementia who said that things would be ok “as long as I remember my children.” Running through these texts, despite their immense variety, was a thoughtfulness, a sense of priorities, and an understanding of perspective that I found illuminating and touching. It was a joy to work with words that were so present (something which surprised me), filled with vibrant details and the poetry of small things.