Collaborating with visual artists always has an interesting affect on my composing. Cirrus came about when my UConn colleague, Deborah Dancy presented me with a video she took of some wispy clouds. We had done two previous collaborations, “Beneath the Black Earth” and “On the Surface of the Water,” so it made sense to explore something sky related. But upon seeing the video, I reacted dismissively. There was just so little motion. What could I grab onto? What could I portray? I considered dispensing with the project entirely. I set it aside, but continued stewing.
That same week, on two unrelated occasions, I was reminded of the verse, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10). Being still doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m always doing stuff. It occurred to me that I don’t even know what being still looks like. I decided to try lying in the hammock my wife had previously hung in our backyard. As I looked up, and attempted to be still — both in my body and thoughts — cirrus clouds were staring back at me. I embraced the moment, using it to consider how I might compose a piece to go along with clouds.
My mind began to wander and took me back to my childhood. On the Manitoba prairies, with no buildings or trees blocking the view, the immensity of the blue sky is awe-inspiring and ever present. One can’t help but feel disproportionately small beneath it. Knowing that it envelops all life on Earth (and beyond) is equally mind boggling.
Just then, I was able to imagine how a cloud-inspired piece of music might materialize. I wanted it to be peaceful, slow moving, gently unfolding, yet emotive. Here’s what transpired:
The recording is from a 2017 concert by the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. The project, called Suite 150, featured the music of eleven Canadian composers, and commemorates Canada’s 150th anniversary. I felt honored to have my song performed side-by-side with pieces by David Braid, Christine Jensen and Fred Stride, among others. The CD Baby website sells the album, should you be interested. The notated music is published by eJazzLines at: https://www.ejazzlines.com/cirrus-earl-macdonald-chart
I am pleased with how Cirrus turned out. It is very different from most of my work. I believe it successfully captures the essence of “being still” and tranquil beneath the clouds. Without Deborah’s video, it never would have been written.