In honor of #EarthDay2021, Katherine Needleman, the principal oboist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, performed an excerpt from Wood Song by Jenni Brandon at 12:00pm on April 22, 2021. This was an online performance. The piece integrates calls of the wood thrush throughout, indicating that the performer should “sing brightly” and create “an effect like a fast trilling bird.”
Wood Song for solo oboe (2019) by Jenni Brandon was inspired by the Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) poem of the same name. It tells of the wood thrush bird as well as the poet’s honesty of kissing life “scars and all”. Listen for variations and interpretations on the wood thrush’s ethereal and mysterious sounds, telling the journey of a soul through poem and music.
by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
I heard a wood-thrush in the dusk
Twirl three notes and make a star
My heart that walked with bitterness
Came back from very far.
Three shining notes were all he had,
And yet they made a starry call –
I caught life back against my breast
And kissed it, scars and all.
From the poetry book “Love Songs”,Interlude: Songs out of Sorrow (VI. Wood Song). The Macmillan Company, 1917. Poem is in the public domain. This collection of poems won the 1918 Pulitzer Prize.
Among the many unique sounds made by this bird includes the “pit volley”. This sound is represented in the work by five quick repeated notes in a row punctuating the moment as the wood-thrush does in the forest. Variations on other unique sounds from the wood thrush’s repertoire are represented by both timbral and regular trills, fast rhythmic leaping lines, and, at times, the lyrical singing of a lone bird in the woods. In remaining true to both the bird’s call as well as the poet’s description of it, the very opening of the work begins with a transcription of one of these birds’ songs “twirling three notes”. Throughout the work there is much freedom given to the oboist to explore creating the song of the wood thrush. Listen for variations and interpretations on their unique song.
It was a joy to work on this piece with Dr. Lindabeth Binkley, who commissioned the work, and whose beautiful, lyrical playing allowed me to explore writing for the many colors of the oboe. Her precision in rhythm and ability to play quickly and precisely also allowed me to explore faster rhythmic aspects of the bird’s song. The result is a work that will hopefully remind us all to take time to walk outside and listen to the birds sing.
This work was commissioned by Dr. Lindabeth Binkley with a Faculty Research and Creative Endeavors Grant from Central Michigan University. It appears on her CD FROM EARTH AND SKY: MUSIC OF JENNI BRANDON on the Blue Griffin Recording label.
Wood Song sheet music is available on Jenni’s website at Wood Song for Solo Oboe – Jenni Brandon