Here’s is a recorded version of the song this post is about:
As we rehearsed “The Nightingale,” I thought: THIS IS IT …
… a tiny, huge, quiet, explosive defining moment, and I was in the middle of it. It’s like when you wait for an animal in the woods, and suddenly it’s there, its breath frosting the air, its hooves ruffling the grass.
I was with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra – it was last Friday, the day before our concert in The Athaneum, an old theatre in a huge old ballroom that’s filled with more history than all my ancestors to together — the kind of theater I love.
The “Nighingale” always sounds beautiful when an orchestra plays it. I wrote it about the sound of my mother’s voice – and, I realized recently, my father’s – the deepest parts of my life before I was born, and when I was small.
These musicians were playing it for the first time and they were playing beautifully – but that’s not what was creating this shift.
They were listening and playing-with – at a breathtakingly steep level of skill and artistry and musicality and listening. The conductor was silently moving through it, without stopping — and I knew he wouldn’t stop. We were inside the music.
And I knew: THIS IS IT– the thing I wait and prepare for, the moment when ‘it’ is happening. THIS is the reason I do all this. Composing, orchestrating, practicing, traveling – sometimes adventurous, often grueling – THIS is what it’s all for.
To stand here on stage facing these musicians, as if one and all were playing intimately to each other – as if a forest-full of elk came to a clearing and sang to the moon, together, to themselves, to each other, to the sound of song itself.
No recording, no concert, nothing short of being able to travel back in time to experience a lullaby from my mother’s throat – nothing short of the most intimate, beautiful and humanity-defining sounds I’ve ever heard.
You don’t think of an orchestra as being intimate. But in a huge empty hall, if each is listening and playing as if we were one-on-one, it is immense and intimate.
Immense. And intimate.
When I first orchestrated this piece, I wondered if I could create the experience – as the performer – of singing with my mother. It’s greedy, I know. To write just to satisfy my own soul.
And I didn’t trust myself to do it. I tried to get a movie composer friend to orchestrate it. But he was busy, so I did it myself – and I’m so glad I did.
And last Friday, I realized, again, that I wrote as if each instrument was a voice. As if each were her voice. As if I could tuck that primal human tenderness into different instruments at different moments of the piece and surreptitiously sing with her again as they played.
I put her voice in the English Horn during the opening – and as principal oboist Leonid Sirotkin brought it alive, it hung in the air like time holding its own breath — then slid into the French Horns in the second verse, and from there into the strings and the woodwinds. I created lines to sing with, and lines to sing against, and these musicians enveloped me in the harmony of longing and belonging.
As we played the piece, alone on the arched-ceiling, red-curtained, old wood floored vaudeville stage, with the echoes of ten thousand songs in the Athaenaeum theatre in Indianapolis last Friday …
I was so moved I could barely sing.
This is it. This is why I’m a composing-performer, why I write music for symphonies and ensembles, and why I love to play it with them.
Watch this video from my PBS special “Invention & Alchemy” where I talk about “The Nightingale”
Heaven . . . loved this piece so much Deborah . . . and adored your writing about it . . . Thank you — what a gift you are.
I was in attendance at this concert in Indianapolis last Saturday! I am a newbie to the harp world…I only just started playing in the Fall of 2012 at school! I am primarily a singer and am studying vocal music education right now. Harp, for me, was the missing piece of my puzzle. Tis’ a complicated puzzle, that’s for sure! I’m still trying to connect the pieces of what I want to do. Your story is beyond inspiring.
Experiencing the concert last week such a thrill and a privilege. I had bought my ticket the night before with a group from school. I’m not sure how this happened but we were lucky enough to have front row seats, which was shocking (and of course, AWESOME!). From the first moment you walked our on stage, you captivated the room. I have not seen someone perform with such expression, musicality, and love for the instrument, voice and the music. I teared up at the first note…. I wish more musicians could be like this. The whole concert just blew me away. From start to finish, you showed so much expression (joy, longing, sadness, silliness, etc), gave all your energy, and just let your light shine in the theatre.
The Nightingale was an emotional moment for me. As you told the story of your own mother and sang/ played the piece, I could picture my mom singing to me and my brother in the car on long drives, singing in choirs, playing piano, and other special memories. Being in college has been tough and I have not been able to see my parents and family as much as I would like. This song brought out that thought and emotion. Honestly, I have been suppressing this thought for a long while- at least the 2.5 years I’ve been in college. Even though there is little I could do about being in college and pursuing a degree in music, I know I can do better and make time. Music is what I am passionate about… those moments of pure, raw emotion gave way to a deeper understanding of why family is immensely important. Why I need to spend more time and tell them I love them more, hug them, and visit more often. Their continuous support keeps me going, even though I do not see them for weeks.
As a singer, I was inspired. As a newbie harpist, I was in awe (singing, playing, dancing, emoting, telling stories, joking, using your own compositions…..how cool is that??-WAY COOL!!!). As a person, I was humbled knowing anything is possible with the gifts we are given. There are endless possibilities to life. Thank you for showing me that and giving me inspiration. Looking back on that experience and remembering how I felt, watched, cried, smiled -all in the company of friends and strangers….it will be with me always. It is also a personal reminder that no matter how I use my own gifts, whether it be in teaching, playing, singing, performing, (ALL!), or where ever the road take me, nothing is impossible. I want to thank you for those pure moments I experienced watching you and connecting in such a wonderful way- through music.
You are so welcome! What a beautiful response. Thank you so much, Kasey.
You are … as always … very welcome, Jeff. It’s been a joy meeting you first online in Blues: Harp-Style an then in New Orleans. I look forward to many more!
Thanks a lot for those words! Thanks for describing this: “This is what it’s all for”-moment so beautifully. Thanks for sharing it! I was sitting in my room in utter silence listening to the beauty of these intimite sounds, that are coming towards me and coming from me, those songs – and the silence was no longer there, the room was filled with heavenly music and it warmly covered my body – And the sun was shining in the darkness and there it was: THIS moment. Thank you so much for THE most beautiful way to start a day…
Music is my sould and Deborah, I am simply in love with you. The way you delivered everything make me feel very good.
This piece of ALL you have done, will forever mean SO much to me. I will not forget at BITM in Williamsburg, the small gathering as you performed it and I finally got to hear it in person. The pause that followed, the sniffs that were being choked back . . . as you said, just being caught up in the music. When we met afterwards, I remember that I told you how much that song ment to me as my own mother used to sing to me and LOVED music (she played the piano), at that time, I still was very emotional. She died when I was 17 (41 years ago) and even though you wrote this in memory of YOUR Mom, I feel like it was definately written for ALL of our dear Moms wheather still here or not. The relationship with our moms is sometimes so profoundly intimate that it’s not easy to put into words. Well my friend, you put it into a song . . . for ALL of us. For that, I am forever greatful!
I’ve always loved this piece for its own musical merits and for the lyrics. Though different and unrelated, it usually makes me think of “A nightingale sang in Berkley Square”, another of my favorite songs.
I’ve been involved with lights, sound, box office, marketing and other aspects of theater and music for most of my life in some capacity or another. It’s been a long time since it was my “day job” but I’ll always know the feeling of when “it” all comes together and an unforgettable combination of audience energy, creative and technical artistry, talent and performance comes together.
What makes so many of your shows so special is that your storytelling within and between songs brings the audience behind the curtain a bit for a more complete understanding and appreciation for what they are experiencing. That could be because a wireless mic or pickup isn’t working and you’re explaining while improvising or it could be because you’re sharing the special memories that inspired a song like this one. Either way, the audience is richer for the experience. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone but me but I’ve worked with artists for whom their total concern is how the show makes them look and I’ve worked with artists for whom their total concern is for the art and for what the audience experiences. The second group is much more satisfying. To the stagehand, that might be in a very tangible way. To the audience it could be subliminal but it is there.
This blog gave me a new insight about that second group. Maybe what makes them different is that they’re experiencing the art as consumer and producer simultaneously. Your delight at “it” coming together seems to be from standing in the shoes (boots?) of a lover of music and story, not just in the shoes of composer and performer. Thanks for sharing.
Scott – Thank you for your beautiful comments. It made me realize that part of the “This is it!” experience for me with the ICO in that rehearsal was this:
When I was 10, I was home alone in a big rambling house we rented in Vancouver, BC. I figured out how to turn on the stereo, a machine I’d never used before. The music was overwhelming, and so beautiful, I was desperate to get closer to it. My parents told me that when they came home, they found me lodged under the stereo sobbing. I only remember I was trying, with all my body and soul, to crawl INTO the stereo – to crawl INTO the music, to be INSIDE it.
At the ICO rehearsal, I realized that was where I was – inside the music.
How wonderful to read about your experience. You played with great musicians who all understand the language of music. You were connected to them and everybody was connected to each other through the language of music. This is the highest goal you can reach when making music, I think.
I totally agree with you. When Deborah does the music, it is fantastic. I cant express my feeling but it is music which keeps me fresh and happy.
I have played the Nightingale many times(and make many mistakes) but the piece is so forgiving. And now after reading your thoughts I am reminded why I admire and love you,Deborah.
Dan, the frustrated Nataliana player.
I had the privilege of “tecking” for Deborah when she came to Buffalo to perform her Frog Princess opera and then again to play with the philharmonic.. my son still has your poster on his wall(he was 8 when you asked for his comments on your opera and I sent you the Christmas ornament that was a frog with a crown on his head). I have played the harp for 53 years and play the Nightingale often, but when I listened to you perform it on this site and read the words at the same time, the tears would not stop flowing… my mom had a beautiful voice and taught vocals and was the choir director of 3 choirs at my dad’s church, so music has always been a huge part of my life, thank you for making this piece and for capturing your mother’s voice so poignantly! You are the very best! much love sent from Buffalo, NY…Patricia Ruof
Thank you so much, Deborah, for sharing your love for your mother, and her love for you. I hang on these stories of you and your mom, delighting in the warmth that you share with her and with us. My mother was a cold, hard woman, who had a beautiful singing voice. But she never sang to me. It never occurred to me that she could until I heard how your mom sang to you. While I’m sad that she kept her music to herself, I am so happy to know that your mom was able to share. And thankful that you were able to find a way to share her with us.
I do know the transcendence you are talking about, when I have been playing music in a group, and everyone is listening, and playing, and being together right in the moment. It is the Now Moment that Thich Nhat Hanh and other meditation teachers talk about. And we musicians get the opportunity to experience that now-ness every time we play together. We get to experience the Oneness that so many meditators are trying to achieve. We are so lucky.
Thanks for everything, Deborah. You are a light!
I first heard this song played on Harpestry CD, in 2000, and instantly fell in love with it. It has always haunted me. Not until I took a year of harp lessons in Chicago in 2011, and my instructor played it out of the blue, did I realize the impact it had on my soul. I burst into tears. She introduced me to you and your music. Hence, I now have several of your CD’s and videos that I share constantly. My intention was to play this at my mother’s funeral mass but was not able to. Would love to be a participant in your workshops some day. First, I must invest in a harp! Keep on girlfriend!