Strain to Shine (2017)
For Voice (Soprano), Trombone and Percussion. (Vocalist can double on percussion).
Duration: 9 min 15 sec
Commissioned by the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX.
Premiered in March 2017, by Adeliia Faizullina and Steve Parker at the Blanton Museum of Art.
Dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria
(c.287-c.305, Alexandria, Egypt).
Strain to Shine was commissioned for the reopening of three galleries at the Blanton Museum of Art. I chose to relate my piece to the old European masters collection, where there are some paintings of St. Catherine of Alexandria. I found out more about her and who she was, a Christian, and an educator, who knew philosophy and languages. I loved how strong she was, her opinions, her personality. It’s hard to imagine someone who, at 17 or 18, was already was taking care of others and thinking deeply about things. I read her story and felt like I knew this person, and I tried to hear her voice inside me as I approached the musical ideas. I sang, in the piece, to hear her voice, through nations, through history — all the way from the 3rd Century. Her voice persists through time, through her own and others’ suffering.
I start the piece with a meditative section, with the sound of opening and closing. I place my palm over my mouth — still singing, but filtering my voice — then remove it. The trombone does the same: opening and closing the sound. St. Catherine keeps trying to spread the word, and external forces close her mouth. Gradually, in the middle section, her voice is open completely: singing “Ahh” and “Haa” with strength. At the climax, the sound is finally closed, with my own hand. The last section uses overtone singing technique. It’s not a “closed” sound exactly, but a processed sound: not a human sound. This is her spirit sound, after death — a third type of sound, neither open nor closed. It’s a voice from that world…
For percussion, I added more sounds that a vocalist could manage to play while singing, to support the idea of the piece. The wind chimes reflect the sounds of nature, and the past. The bell announces significant moments and events. The rainstick sounded to me like sand running through an hourglass, the symbol of time passing. It’s a timeless sound — it brings all time together, since there is no time the holds her spirit voice.