Stories From My Grandmother

I. It was like a, like a lightning
II. Slow Memory

flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

duration: 9′ 30″

Stories From My Grandmother was premiered by the Zero Blue Ensemble, Dana Sadava, conductor, in Ann Arbor, MI on March 21, 2009.

Live recording with Ben Grow, conductor:

Program Notes:

Stories From My Grandmother is a two movement suite excerpted from a 50-minute documentary oratorio called And Then I Remember. The oratorio weaves recorded interviews that I conducted with my grandmother with music performed by a soprano soloist, small chorus, solo double bass and chamber ensemble. The piece follows the story of my grandmother, Taimi Lepasaar, who was born in Estonia in 1922 and survived both the Russian and German occupations of Estonia during World War II before escaping the country near the end of the war, eventually making it to the United States. The two movements of Stories From My Grandmother are instrumental reflections on my grandmother’s stories.The first movement, “It was Like a, Like a Lightning,” tries to capture the visceral energy, fear and mournful sadness of one particular story, a portion of which I am including below:

And then, was the summer 1940 and I was in Alatskivi with my grandparents. In the evening, there was a dance. About 6’o’clock we left the farm and we went to the castle to dance together. It was about 9:30… the music stopped.. and the announcement came that the Russian troops have come over Lake Peipsi; the Russian army is coming towards this castle, towards us. We ask you all to take your bicycles and go home. And then was Estonia was conquered. 1940, that summer. It was like a, like a lightning, like somebody had hit you on the back. And then we all rode quietly, it was a… June night. The moon was lighting the road, but the hearts were heavy. And we drove home and went to the farm, but the farm was far away from the highway up on the hill. Next morning we were all standing there on the fence under the big linden trees, watching how the Russian army, marched along that highway towards Tartu, towards our city, and this moment we shared together. You know, it seemed that all the dreams were broken.

The second movement, “Slow Memory,” was not inspired by a specific story but is instead a meditation on memory and my grandmother’s way of stoytelling. It tries to capture the mix of emotion and matter-of-factness within her voice; the moments of gentle lilt and the moments of struggle, in which a feeling of sadness seems to break through the veil of her words.