This Friday June 3, Pipa virtuoso Yu Rong Chen will be premiering my piece Desert Time, composed especially for her, as part of her recital of traditional, contemporary and pop music arrangements for the Pipa.
The Pipa is an ancient Chinese lute dating back to at least the 2nd century AD, but is likely older. It is played with plectrums on each finger of the right hand and, unlike the guitar, has no frets meaning that you can really bend the notes. The array of techniques for changing the colour or nuance of each note is staggering. I had a really fun time collaborating with Yu Rong Chen via skype! I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to write this piece without the training I received from my guitar teacher Victor Martinez Parada who is dedicated to expanding the techniques of classical guitar playing, inventing many techniques of his own and drawing on techniques from a wide range of popular, jazz-rock, and folk styles. In my program note/dedication I pay tribute to Victor saying that his ‘innovative tone-colour explorations on the guitar are etched into my heart and fingers from the many years of lessons I took with him’.
The music in Desert Time explores the interplay of dynamic energy and silence. It features waves of shifting colour – a soft, quivering tremolo that turns into bold, declamatory chords that are transformed into ethereal harmonics. The final section features a simple, heartfelt melody. This melody is my musical symbol for the timeless spirit of the desert and its beauty. We get glimpses of this melody earlier in the piece. But when it is heard in full, everything before seems to drop away.
The idea for this piece came to me after reading Robyn Davidson’s description of desert time in her memoir of her solo trek from Alice Springs to WA with four camels and a dog for company.
I look forward to hearing Jasmine perform this work in just a few days. Until then, I am enjoying hanging out in Taipei!