Mount Timpanogos + Liberté

Last Wednesday, I had the great opportunity to hike to the top of Mount Timpanogos, the second highest peak along the Wasatch front. I’ve always wanted to go, but never found it convenient. I’ve also had some terrible foot problems in recent years and found hiking, one of my favorite activities, to be difficult. A friend of mine is leaving the Provo area and wanted to hike Timp before she left. This was as good a time as any.

I just bought a Camelbak and got myself ready with a bottle of Ibuprofen, and psyched myself for this hike that I knew would be long. The first half of the hike was pretty easy and we found ourselves passing gorgeous waterfalls and even managed to see a pair of moose in the distance. There was plenty of shade and oxygen and we seemed unstoppable.

After climbing about 2,000 feet, we arrived at a sort of shelf. It got quite flat, and open. It was about this time that I was started to feel the heat, and the lack of oxygen. I looked up and saw the peak of Timp and thought to myself, “No way. There’s no way that I go on, and there’s certainly no way that I can reach the peak.”

As we kept going, the landscape became less hospitable; the trees eventually stopped and the grass and wild flowers eventually evaporated. Even though it was relatively flat, it seemed so difficult. It was about this time that we came upon some ice fields. I scooped up some of the snow and placed it on my head to cool me down. It actually helped quite a bit. Just relieving the heat made a huge difference and I felt that I was getting my second wind. My friend on the other hand, started to slow down a bit.

This was about the time when I said, “No way.”

By the time we got to the “saddle” (the part where you can finally see the other side of the mountain the the valley bellow) we needed to rest and reassess what we were doing. We could see the peak from where we were and understood that it would be another hour before we got there.  After considering the facts and weighing our options we decided that we would take the risk and continuing climbing.  We had already climbed 3,500 feet and felt that we needed to finish the last leg.  After making sure that my friend could go on we set off.

By this time the landscape was inhospitable; No vegetation, just unforgiving rocks.  There wasn’t anymore snow either, just us on the last leg of the climb.  After a while we could see a little metal shack at the top of the mountain.  It was our final destination.  Even with the prize in sight, I needed some motivation and cheer-leading to make it to the top.  So I provided my own.  My mind fell upon a poem by Paul Eluard that I had talked about previously with my friend: “Liberté.”  It’s been set by contemporary French composer Francis Poulenc, and is the last movement of the larger work “Figure Humaine.”  There is a recurring line that says, “J’écris ton nom,” or “I write your name” (the name being “Liberty”).

MOOSEN!

I started to chant this to myself over and over again with every step I took, “J’écris ton nom . . . J’écris ton nom . . . J’écris ton nom,”  This might not make much sense if you don’t understand the poem and the context.  By the time Poulenc was setting it to music France was under Nazi occupation.  One of the worlds greatest superpowers, which had gone through revolution for the sake of “Life, Liberty and Fraternity,” was no longer free.  This poem talks about writing the name “Liberty” on everything in sight, a rock, a tree, a lamp post, even a dog’s paw.  This idea of seeing true liberty reflected in everything around us motivated me a great deal.  Even in bondage we can still be free.

After an hour or so of chanting, we arrived at the pinnacle.  Getting to the top was so exhilarating.  We shouted and cheered probably because we weren’t sure if we were going to make it and because we had to go through quite a bit to get there.  During that brief moment, there have been fewer times in my life when I have felt as free.  It might just been the lack of oxygen, but being up there was immensely liberating.

In order to get the full effect of this whole thing, I’m posting Poulenc’s “Liberté” recorded majestically by Tenebrae along with the text and a translation.

Sur mes cahiers d’écolier
Sur mon pupitre et les arbres
Sur le sable sur la neige
J’écris ton nom

Sur toutes les pages lues
Sur toutes les pages blanches
Pierre sang papier ou cendre
J’écris ton nom

Sur les images dorées
Sur les armes des guerriers
Sur la couronne des rois
J’écris ton nom

Sur la jungle et le désert
Sur les nids sur les genêts
Sur l’écho de mon enfance
J’écris ton nom

Sur les merveilles des nuits
Sur le pain blanc des journées
Sur les saisons fiancées
J’écris ton nom

Sur tous mes chiffons d’azur
Sur l’étang soleil moisi
Sur le lac lune vivante
J’écris ton nom

Sur les champs sur l’horizon
Sur les ailes des oiseaux
Et sur le moulin des ombres
J’écris ton nom

Sur chaque bouffée d’aurore
Sur la mer sur les bateaux
Sur la montagne démente
J’écris ton nom

Sur la mousse des nuages
Sur les sueurs de l’orage
Sur la pluie épaisse et fade
J’écris ton nom

Sur les formes scintillantes
Sur les cloches des couleurs
Sur la vérité physique
J’écris ton nom

Sur les sentiers éveillés
Sur les routes déployées
Sur les places qui débordent
J’écris ton nom

Sur la lampe qui s’allume
Sur la lampe qui s’éteint
Sur mes maisons réunies
J’écris ton nom

Sur le fruit coupé en deux
Du miroir et de ma chambre
Sur mon lit coquille vide
J’écris ton nom

Sur mon chien gourmand et tendre
Sur ses oreilles dressées
Sur sa patte maladroite
J’écris ton nom

Sur le tremplin de ma porte
Sur les objets familiers
Sur le flot du feu béni
J’écris ton nom

Sur toute chair accordée
Sur le front de mes amis
Sur chaque main qui se tend
J’écris ton nom

Sur la vitre des surprises
Sur les lèvres attentives
Bien au-dessus du silence
J’écris ton nom

Sur mes refuges détruits
Sur mes phares écroulés
Sur les murs de mon ennui
J’écris ton nom

Sur l’absence sans désirs
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J’écris ton nom

Sur la santé revenue
Sur le risque disparu
Sur l’espoir sans souvenir
J’écris ton nom

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer

Liberté

On my school books
On my desk and on the trees
On the sand and in the snow
I write your name

On every page that is read
On all blank pages
Stone blood paper or ashes
I write your name

On gilded pictures
On the weapons of warriors
On the crown of kings
I write your name

Over the jungle and the desert
On the nests on the brooms
On the echo of my infancy
I write your name

On the wonders of the night
On the daily bread
On the conjoined seasons
I write your name

On all my blue scarves
On the pond grown moldy in the sun
On the lake alive in the moonlight
I write your name

On fields on the horizon
On the wings of birds
And on the mill of shadows
I write your name

On each rising dawn
On the sea on the boats
On the wild mountain
I write your name

On the foamy clouds
In the sweat-filled storm
On the rain heavy and relentless
I write your name

On shimmering figures
On bells of many colors
On undeniable truth
I write your name

On the living pathways
On the roads stretched out
On the bustling places
I write your name

On the lamp which is ignited
On the lamp which is extinguished
My reunited households
I write your name

On the fruit cut in two
The mirror and my bedroom
On my bed an empty shell
I write your name

On my dog greedy and loving
On his alert ears
On his clumsy paw
I write your name

On the springboard of my door
On the familiar objects
On the stream of the sacred flame
I write your name

On all united flesh
On the faces of my friends
On each hand held out
I write your name

On the window of surprises
On the attentive lips
Well above silence
I write your name

On my destroyed safehouses
On my collapsed beacons
On the walls of my boredom
I write your name

On absence without desire
On naked solitude
On the death marches
I write your name

On health restored
On risk disappeared
On hope without memory
I write your name

And through the power of one word
I recommence my life
I was born to know you
To give a name to you

Liberty

Gratias Tibi – Tarik O’Regan

To celebrate the imminent return of BYU Singers, I’m sharing one of my all-time favorite pieces of music:

 

“I thank Thee, my God, in whom is my delight, my glory and my trust. I thank Thee for Thy gifts and beg Thee to preserve and keep them for me. Keep me, too, and so Thy gifts will grow and reach perfection, And I shall be with Thee myself, For I should not even exist if it were not by Thy gift.”
—St. Augustine of Hippo

Radio Interview at Classical 89

I just finished doing a radio interview at Classical 89 here at BYU.  My friend Igor Marques from my 16th century counterpoint class, who works there, invited me to come and talk about “In Paradisum” in connection with a broadcast in late September.  I’m thrilled that he remembered my piece from it’s premiere back in February and that they would consider broadcasting it on the radio.

The interview went well.  I felt a little more flustered than usual and for some reason had a hard time coming up with good eloquent answers.  I don’t know what my problem was.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a live broadcast.  I did make one flub that I wish I could go back and change:  I was asked about composers I look up to and said something like “Byrd, Poulenc, Barber . . .”  I totally forgot to say BACH!  I’ve been studying the Bach motets for the past month and totally forgot to say anything!  I also forgot to say Vaughan Williams, Pärt, Debussy and Palestina.  And of course there are many, many other composers that I look up to.

Anyway, I’m really glad to have that opportunity.  “In Paradisum” and the interview should air September 28th sometime that day, I think it’ll be at 1 PM and 8 PM, but I’m not sure.  I’ll have more solid information later.  Make sure you tune in!

New Piece: I Hear America Singing

The charm of Walt Whitman’s poems happens to also be it’s challenge.  His trademark free-verse style is very difficult to set to music.  Although you can’t resist the rugged, rustic sentiment of one of his most famous poems, “I Hear America Singing.”

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or
at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of
the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows,
robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

-Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

The ecstatic buoyancy, free of all inhibitions, is really infectious.  It can’t be understated, however, that this is really difficult to put to music.  As brilliant as it is, I don’t know how people look to Whitman for poetry so often.