Song in Mistranslation

flute, clarinet and cello

duration: 6′ 15″

Song in Mistranslation was premiered by Sato Moughalian, flute, Nick Gallas, clarinet, and Karen Ouzounian, cello, at the New York Estonian House on September 29, 2011.

Studio Recording by Roberta Michel, flute, Nicholas Gallas, clarinet, and Karen Ouzounian, cello:

Program Notes:

The roots of Song in Mistranslation lie many years ago in a recording I came across while doing research at the Estonian Folklore Archives. The recording was a folksong called Käte käskimine (Bidding Hands to do Work) in a southeastern dialect of Estonian called Setu. Though I grew up in California, Estonian was my first language, but I was unable to understand more than a few words of the strange Setu dialect. Despite this, the music drew me in with its oddly hypnotic harmonies (most Estonian folk music is monophonic – without harmony), off kilter lilt and unexpected call and response patterns. I wrote a quick transcription and got back to the work I was supposed to be doing. Many years later, I thought of that song as I was beginning a piece for flute and cello (I added the clarinet later on in the process). Without looking at the transcription I began writing. What emerged was music clearly but distantly influenced by the Setu song. I like to think that years of the music sitting in the back of my brain filtered out the deep and essential elements of the music that I could connect to. But I also realize that the music I wrote would not be identified by a Setu singer as having anything to do with her music. This sense of a cultural one-way street is something that I think immigrant families such as mine often face. To the extent to which music can actually beanything, this music is certainly more about an American experience than anything Estonian.