This piece kind of snuck up as a group to become one of our favorites. The impetus for the piece was a beautiful poem by Irish poet Seamus Heaney called “A New Song”:

I met a girl from Derrygarve
And the name, a lost potent musk,
Recalled the river’s long swerve,
A kingfisher’s blue bolt at dusk
And stepping stones like black molars
Sunk in the ford, the shifty galze
Of the whirlpool, the Moyola
Pleasuring beneath the alder trees.
And Derrygarve, I thought, was just,
Vanished music, twilit water,
A smooth libation of the past
Poured by this chance vestal daughter.
But now our river tongues must rise
From licking deep in native haunts
To flood, with vowelling embrace,
Demesnes staked out in consonants.
And Castledawson we’ll enlist
And Upperlands, each planted bawn —
Like bleaching-greens resumed by grass —
A vocable, as rath and bullaun.

Even as someone who’s looked at this poem a lot, I don’t claim to totally understand it. The lines that really drew me in, however, were the ones italicized here. What can I say, I’m a sucker for good nostalgia (less so for weird, mouth-related language).

To write the piece, I used a trick that I’ve found is a bit unusual for songwriters. First,  empowered and inspired by the poem, I wrote a piece of music based on the feeling it gave me. Next, I looked through what I’d written and tried to massage some of the words of the original poem into my melody. It’s not hard to see the influence of the poem in the first stanza. The parts I’ve placed in bold come from more or less directly this poem:

The nightingale sings, “Halleloo”
The nightingale sings “Halleloo” while the soft penninsula sleeps.
The kingfisher’s blue bolt at dusk
The kingfisher’s blue bolt at dusk whispers sighs through the vanishing trees.
The river’s long swerve the twilit embrace of blue
Like some vanished song, the music returns to you, the world you knew, comes rushing back to you.

To form the rest of the lyric, I leafed through a book of poetry by the same poet and looked for words which I felt followed my theme and matched the melodic rhythm I was working with. I could have never come up with such incredible language as “soft peninsula” and “glass silhouette” without the help of Mr. Heaney. When I’d filled in the main parts of the lyric, I then tried to use my own imagination to fill in whatever might be missing.

Musically

Musically, this might not feel like jazz – most of the harmony is triadic and the phrasing is very even and folk-like. One of the goals for this piece was to seamlessly integrate free improvisation and written material. For an uneducated, or unsuspecting listener, it might not sound like any portion is necessarily improvised, but both Lucas and I have “solos” here, just not in the traditional jazz sense of playing over a background of specific chord changes.

One of the great things about playing in a group for quite a while is being able to watch things evolve. When we first recorded this piece (it’s track 2 on Finger-Songwriter), the second half (after the instrumental) was essentially the same as the first half, but with a different lyric. If you compare this version, you can hear that there’s much more rhythmic movement and sway in the second half, as well as some more exciting (and, yes, maybe even more jazzy) chords. This was the result of playing it maybe as many as 100 times while on tour!

One unlikely source of inspiration for this music is the pianist/producer “Gonzales” (sometimes “Chilly Gonzales”) and his album “Solo Piano.” He’s someone coming from very much outside the jazz world, but I found his mismatched pairings of seemingly straight-forward trains and singable melodies in distant keys intriguing and emotionally evocative. You can hear lots of this music here.  Other pianist inspirations include brilliant British pianist John Taylor (check out his Songs and Variations), and Debussy’s Preludes. 

Download the free sheet music for “Twilit Water, Vanished Music” Twilit Water Vanished Music.

Download the free EP for “at_Home/at_Play” here.

Read the full lyrics for “Twilit Water, Vanished Music” Below:

Twilit Water, Vanished Music
The nightingale sings, “Halleloo”
The nightingale sings “Halleloo” while the soft penninsula sleeps.
The kingfisher’s blue bolt at dusk
The kingfisher’s blue bolt at dusk whispers sighs through the vanishing trees.
The river’s long swerve the twilit embrace of blue
Like some vanished song, the music returns to you, the world you knew, comes rushing back to you.

The glass silhouette, golden gray
The glass silhouette, golden gray, of a cloud the horizon drinks down.
The blackberry sage sings and sways
The bushes are singing praise of wind and waves, they’re singing secret praise.
The juniper buds dark and true the juniper buds dark and true fill with dew in gardens and woods.

The gathering stars dive and play
The gathering stars dive and play a migration of glistening birds.
The river’s long swerve the twilit embrace of blue
Like some vanished song, the music returns to you, the world you knew, comes rushing back to you.

The lilt of her voice, sweet but sad
The lilt of her voice, sweet but sad on the evening she sang “Halleloo.”

 

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