Instrumentation: Clarinet, two violins, viola, cello
(links open to Spotify)
I. Early Days
II. Music in Five Pulses (how you broke my heart)
III. Parenthetical Blues (timing is everything)
IV. A Few Questions for Arnold
V. Parenthetical Folk Song
VI. Music in Five Pulses (how we used to dance)
VIII. Oh, to Live in a World Symphonic
Throughout his life, blues guitarist Orlando Underground harbored a secret interest in notated composition. A college degree was not a claim to fame in the world of rock and roll, at least not in those days, and so Orlando never told anyone about how during his college years he’d discovered and fallen in wild love with classical music. Those afternoons lying on the floor with a cup of black tea and Mahler. The Beethoven symphonies. His fascination with the sensation of order in certain pieces of music; the feeling that microscopic patterns in his own skin came to the surface by way of organized sound. Orlando always wondered what life might have been like if he hadn’t stayed in the band all those years and instead had nurtured other musical interests. (Would things have turned out differently with Jess? This question, though seemingly unrelated, plagued him particularly. It had nearly killed him—and yet it was so undeniably musical—when she’d shrugged her shoulders and said, “I guess timing is everything, after all.”)
Orlando felt special affection for the patently nerdy idea of retrograde, that a thing moving backwards might be both recognizable and new. There was much more to backwards than Paul on Sgt. Pepper, if you allowed for abstraction in meaning, and some composers seemed to understand this. Orlando also held a fondness for certain numbers; five, especially, was mystical and mythical both. The five-syllable phrase how you broke my heart had followed Orlando for a seeming decade post-Jess, a relentless, five-pulse mantra that finally—in some kind of involuntary comedy—found new refrains, other words for the pulses; why won’t she come back becoming where’d I put my keys, or, please turn out the light. (Jess was the one who had teased him mercilessly for carrying around and reading Arnold Schoenberg’s Style and Idea, though she never told the guys in the band. It’s clear from the manuscripts that Orlando spent time exploring 12-tone rows and other methods associated with Schoenberg, and Jess laughed to see his scrawl in the margins of the music: Did I do this right? Arnold?) Echoes of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water pop up here and there throughout the Eight Lost Songs, in some instances nearing quotation, in others appearing as simple shapes, as lines re-cast, fragmented and transposed, perhaps underscoring the notion that at the heart of things lay the question of how we contend with wondering whether we’ve made the right choices in life, and whether we’ve gotten it right with the choices we have made. It’s likely that Orlando remained unaware of the reversal his position might be understood to represent, that in the classical music world there were growing numbers of composers who actively—if privately—yearned for and reached in the direction of rock and roll.
It was Jess who found the Eight Lost Songs in a desk drawer after Orlando died. She assumed that Orlando chose to write for clarinet in part because of Maya Ochoa, a dark-eyed clarinetist who lived on the fifth floor of his building in Brooklyn whom he and Jess saw often in the elevator and to whom, as far as Jess knew, he’d never spoken.
The Eight Lost Songs of Orlando Underground was commissioned by the Lark Quartet and premiered by them, along with Romie de Guise-Langlois, on Sept. 17, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah.