My "guru" Edgar Cayce had a term for God that I like: The Creative Forces. Usually when someone says they feel "close to God" at such-and-such a time, I have no idea what they mean. But maybe if they said they feel "close to the Creative Forces" I'd know exactly what they mean.
Toward the end of my work on "Plath Songs", there was an afternoon when I went to my church sanctuary for a change, to avoid interruption, and perhaps more importantly, to have SPACE to project creatively into. And to have a 7-foot grand piano to spread my 11x17-inch paper out on.
I was working on the as-of-yet-unconceived final stanza of the gorgeous poem "Blackberrying" when things sort of took off, and ideas started flying. I was drawing barlines and spelling out notes and counts as fast as I could, and I ripped through about 15 sheets of 11x17 paper in a single stream of work. It felt like my limbs were stretched out all the way, like I was sky-diving (something I would NEVER EVER do, by the way), catching wind like a sail. Or, more accurately, like I was a sail, but permeable enough that the wind could blow right through me. The piece just took off and I followed as fast as I could.
The closest I've ever felt to that feeling was playing Widor's Toccata on the organ, when your hands are going 90 miles an hour with sixteenth notes, and your feet are trumpeting out tremendous bass octaves in the pedal. You literally feel like you're flying, as all four of your limbs are spread out, transmuted, dissolved, spent into the power of sound.
This felt very similar, but with the added dimension of a clear sense of openness: Your core is open, with no protection, no crossed arms, nothing between your vulnerable center and all that is.
How can power and powerlessness seem so close to the same thing?
I'm sure that Plath, despite her moments of suffering, also had moments like this, if the inspiration embedded in her words was strong to invoke for me what might as well be called The Wind, or The Creative Forces, or God.
Or was I actually feeling, through the power of art, what she felt on the day that inspired these words: "From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me, slapping its phantom laundry in my face. These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salted. I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me to the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock that looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space of white and pewter lights and a din like silversmiths beating and beating at an intractable metal."?
ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS:
“An artist is never poor.” This empowering quote (from my favorite film Babette’s Feast) expresses what I love about the creative impulse: the ability to see big possibilities in small things. All it takes is a little moment in time -- the observation of a single, compelling human interaction -– and one can say “there’s a song in there.” All it takes is one melodic idea to clothe the first phrase of a poem, and the rest of the setting can begin to unfold.
I also love that this unfolding never has to be forced. Rather, it is a receptive listening that enables one to sense, little by little, what else is needed for the creation to be complete. With patience and attention to the significance of the smallest detail, the music comes into being. It is like the slow blooming of a flower, which would not even exist without the artist having “seen” its possibility. As Georgia O’Keeffe says, in another favorite quote of mine: “Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven't time - and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.”
NEW CHRISTMAS SETTINGS NOW AVAILABLE:
Pat-a-pan (SSSAAA) and Rocking Carol (TTBB)
Pat-a-pan (traditional French carol, sung in English) gives the women a chance to shine, with intricate textures and a rafter-raising ending. Rocking Carol (traditional Czech carol, sung in English) gives the men a chance to sing a tender lullaby, with rich harmonies. Audiences may swoon.
The carols will have their official premieres on the LA Master Chorale's Festival of Carols concerts on December 7th and 14th at LA's Walt Disney Concert Hall. For tickets, please visit: www.lamc.org. For queries or to order the music, please CONTACT us.
Please peruse the Choral music catalogs (click on MUSIC) for a complete listing of all available Kirchner choral works and songs.
"Music Inspired by St. Thomas of Canterbury and other 12th-century Marvels" at the Getty Museum, Saturday, November 16th, 2013 at 7 pm (tickets free but reservations required)
A small contingent of the men of the Los Angeles Master Chorale will sing these earliest examples of the Western choral tradition by Leonin, Perotin, and Hildegard of Bingen. Shawn Kirchner, Pablo Cora, and Michael Lichtenauer will be the featured soloists on Perotin's Sederunt Principes. Grant Gershon, conducting.
Shawn Kirchner (b.1970) is a composer and songwriter active in the musical circles of Los Angeles. In May, he was appointed Swan Family Composer in Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. His choral compositions are performed throughout the United States and abroad in concert halls, churches, schools, and on radio, television (and YouTube!). He is best known for his arrangement of the Kenyan song Wana Baraka. The Los Angeles Master Chorale has often presented Kirchner's choral pieces in their concerts at LA's Walt Disney Concert Hall, and commissioned his 2007 setting of the Pablo Neruda sonnet, Tu Voz and his most recent concert suite, Behold New Joy: Ancient Carols of Christmas. The Master Chorale's final concert of the 2009/2010 season featured a premiere of his "bluegrass triptych," Heavenly Home: Three American Songs, which received mention in the LA Times concert review as "effectively" written works of "sophistication." Kirchner's pieces are published by Boosey & Hawkes, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, and Shawn Kirchner Publishing (available through this website.)
In addition to composing, songwriting has become a career focus for Kirchner in recent years. His songs combine emotional warmth with carefully crafted lyrics, and are written in a range of styles including bluegrass, folk, country, gospel and jazz. Kirchner's bluegrass and country songs can be heard on the CD Meet Me on the Mountain, and his original jazz tunes are featured in club and concert performances of the Shawn Kirchner Quartet.
Kirchner also maintains an active performing career as a singer and pianist. A tenor with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, he sings regularly with the Chorale and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall and at the Hollywood Bowl in collaborations with the world's leading conductors and composers. Under the Master Chorale’s music director Grant Gershon, he has sung in several projects with Steve Reich, including two recordings for Nonesuch Records and a performance at Lincoln Center in honor of the composer’s 70th birthday. His solo appearances with the Master Chorale include work with Meredith Monk, Ariel Ramirez’ Missa Criolla, and Arvo Part's Miserere. Kirchner's work as a pianist includes performances with the Master Chorale at Disney Hall and on tour as well as free-lance work in recitals, concerts, and studio sessions. Before moving to the Los Angeles area, he was a vocal coach/pianist in Chicago, and played for Neil Rosenshein’s studio at the Lyric Opera’s Center for American Artists. Initially trained in classical music, his improvisational skills now encompass many styles.
Kirchner's growing list of TV/Film credits includes his work as music director/arranger for the 2004 CBS Christmas Eve special Enter the Light of Life, and his singing on such feature film soundtracks as Avatar, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Horton Hears a Who, National Treasure II: Book of Secrets, Lady in the Water, License to Wed, the Lorax, Race to Witch Mountain, Sex in the City II, The Rite, and X-Men: First Class.
Long active as a church musician, Kirchner is pianist/organist/composer-in-residence at the La Verne Church of the Brethren in La Verne, CA where he shares music leadership of a thriving program with fellow LA Master Chorale singer, conductor, and music educator, Nike St. Clair. He has served as music coordinator for several National Youth Conferences as well as providing leadership for many other Church of the Brethren national and regional events.
Kirchner was raised with his triplet brother and sister in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His principal piano teachers were Joan Smalley and George Katz, and Susan Beasley and Graeme Cowen were his mentors in choral music. He studied at Manchester College, where he earned a BA in Peace Studies under Kenneth Brown, and was mentored in songwriting by the poet/songwriter Steve Kinzie. He spent his junior year abroad, studying Chinese language, literature, history and music at the Dalian Foreign Language Institute in Dalian, China. He earned an MA in Choral Conducting from the University of Iowa, where he studied with William Hatcher and Richard Bloesch. In recent years, Kirchner has been mentored in choral arranging and music philosophy by Alice Parker.