Underneath the Spreading Tree
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Instrumentation: Bass Clarinet and Marimba
The most unique feature of this piece is obviously the instrumentation. I partly regret my choice and may rewrite it for something more practical someday, but my reason for the choice is because of a phrase in Isaiah 55:12, “...all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” This personification stirred my creative curiosity on the brink of obsession, and I could not get the combination of a bass clarinet and a marimba out of my head. They are the perfect two instruments to depict the sound of living trees rejoicing over redeemed Israel and I couldn't rest until I'd used them together for the purpose. However, a story is pointless if you only share the ending without saying how it came about. Using the perspective of the trees in the land I've written this work to tell the story of Israel’s fall into paganism, God's judgement on them, and then finally their redemption. To listen to this work correctly, you must understand that you're listening to a tree tell a story.
Throughout the major profits in the Old Testament, the term “spreading tree” is used repeatedly in reference to the location in which the nation of Israel conducted their sinful pagan rituals. If one applies the personification of the trees in Isaiah 55 to these texts, it's not hard to imagine what sorts of sounds God's trees would make in response to detestable practices being performed underneath them. These practices included various ceremonies to honor false Gods, ritualistic sexuality (mass orgies), and child sacrifice; clearly detestable practices in the eyes of God. The beginning of this tree's story portrays these pagan ceremonies through primitive sounding harmonies and intricate rhythmic dancelike textures. At first these sounds seem innocent, but as the work progresses the harmonies are twisted to depict the darker components of pagan Israel’s worship.
The following are the texts I had in mind while writing this beginning section:
Jeremiah 2:20 (NIV), "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, 'I will not serve you!' Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute."
Isaiah 57:5, "You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags."
The second section is the tree's telling of God's response to Israel's disobedience. This is depicted by energetic and ominous sounds followed by sounds of intense sorrow. It is the tree's version of these texts:
Jeremiah 4:13-15, "Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds! His chariots are like whirlwinds. His horses are swifter than eagles. How terrible it will be, for we are doomed! O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart that you may be saved. How long will you harbor your evil thoughts? Your destruction has been announced from Dan and the hill country of Ephraim."
Jeremiah 13:24-27, "'I will scatter you like chaff that is blown away by the desert winds. This is your allotment, the portion I have assigned to you,' says the Lord, 'for you have forgotten me, putting your trust in false gods. I myself will strip you and expose you to shame. I have seen your adultery and lust, and your disgusting idol worship out in the fields and on the hills. What sorrow awaits you, Jerusalem! How long before you are pure?'"
The final section depicts the tree's swelling joy at the thought of the future return of God's people to the land, the original reason I set out to write this work:
Isaiah 55:12, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."