Death + Poetry = Orchestra?

So I’m writing a new piece of music. A big piece of music. I’ve written big pieces before but this one seems heavier, holding more responsibility; The responsibility of other people’s hearts and wallets.

The work hangs upon the text of another man. A deceased man. A man that no longer has the opportunity to defend his text against my music, my impulses that may in fact be quite contradictory to his. The work involves an orchestra. Yes, an orchestra. That means there are many people involved in these impulses. Each impulse is given to a different player. Together they make a whole and attempt to sum up what his simple words probably said better in the first place. That forces to me to constantly retread the notes of the score and ask “Is this an advance?”. 
But charged with the task of composing this work, I have accepted this constant question and moved forwards, sure in the knowledge that I have much to do, lest I be steam-rolled by a Mack truck sized impulse of a deceased mans design. Perhaps that would be the best outcome; Allow him the right to rebuttal in his death by beating me with immortality. I can’t trump him on that. A mere mortal, I must live until I’ve earned the right to be vainglorious in death. As a musician you’ll always be remembered by your last gig. Is that the same with ideas? Always remembered by the last thing you tried to defend or refuse? And does dying drunk allow you some slack, taking your penultimate argument as your last whilst the calamitous death slips below the judge? No matter, I digress. 
The deceased mans words (his name is Tim, lets call him Tim), cover much ground. He has views, opinions, ideas. Some of them are rude, others genius. Tim was an average fellow. I say average because he had a wife, kids, house in the suburbs, drove a car, got cancer. No royal blood, no coliseum named after him. What makes this collection of words so intriguing is that he wrote much of it in full awareness of his proximity to death. He watched it approach; writing much about its colour as it shadowed him. That makes me curious as his perspective on things is not one I have the education to match or manipulate without risking falsification. 
For a while I wondered if I were writing a requiem. A great mass to repose the soul of Tim. But not all the text falls into line with the traditional idea of a requiem. (Would a piece about your dick floating in the bath be appropriate for a requiem?). However I did find an instrumental piece emerging. I erk at this as I don’t want to say “written in response to the text” because that calls up insipid memories of instruments coerced into imitating bugs and traffic and cosmic beams of love; but, I suppose, it was written after reading the words and ruminating on the scale of the concert, so with an erk and a deep breath of resignation I say “I have written a fragment of a requiem for Timothy Hamilton Walsh in response to his words and in honour of his life”. Perhaps the whole work will be held under the light of a requiem, whatever the modern manifestation is. How many people get requiems written nowadays? 
I was approached a couple years ago to begin this process; after 20 years of Tim’s passing. Initially I had to deliver 5 minutes of music from 2 poems by Tim for his brothers birthday party. The commissioner said that this musical presentation was, as far as he knew, the only surprise for the event and given the nature of it, it could be a outstanding success, or the brother may run screaming from the room. Either way, it would be memorable. With Tim’s sons, Tim’s widow and now Tim’s unsuspecting brother standing 15 feet in front of me in the quietening room, I hoped I had interpreted the poems appropriately, otherwise an offence here could make the news.

Breathe in. Sing. 5 minutes later, smiles. Yes!

I liked the poems. I liked them a lot. I wanted more. More poems, more music and more of Tim. My plans of grandeur came to fruit with the aid of orchestral friends who understood my excitement. I had spend the years preceding this working to understand how a string section can play popular song grooves. So I was armed with new ideas and an enthusiasm that multiplied like a germ.

I think Tim would approve of this new cloak. But questions still spin behind my ears; would he have preferred his words stuck to a punk band, a polka band, a pipe band, a one man band? Who can say. Only Tim’s words to questions long since asked and answered are the guide to how ‘right’ it will be.
However, I suspect the punk band would serve the dick in the bathtub poem better then an orchestra could.

The work is called ‘Tim Passes’ and will premiere at Dark Mofo in Hobart this June.

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