Kitty Brazelton

Ecclesiastes: A Modern Oratorio

Innova 727

 

thoughts

I hope you will listen to this record in a dark room with your eyes closed. I hope you will listen when you can let go of time. I hope you will then watch the characters of time and purpose present themselves on the open stage of your imagination. And that you will ride the drama of timelessness as it unfolds, from its beginning all the way to its end, although it has neither.

But before you close your eyes, here are some thoughts I’ve been thinking for the last eight years or so, about what you’re hearing.

I call this record a modern oratorio. Oratorios were operas minus staging, costumes or props. Just the theater of the music and the words. Sung. Usually about a sacred topic. Often drawn from the Bible.

It’s modern because it involves the use of technology in primary music-making—drones and soundtrack collages of “found” sound—sounds made by the ensemble or me, altered, fractured, recombined—organic to the whole but disembodied in time.

ecclesiastes: a modern oratorio is drawn from the Old Testament's Book of Ecclesiastes. Primarily Chapters 1 and 3. You may recognize the well-known poem from Chapter 3, from The Byrds’ 1965 hit song Turn! Turn! Turn! penned by Pete Seeger in the 1950s:

To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away;
A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

from the Book of Ecclesiastes (Eccles.) 3:1-8, The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty’s special command. Appointed to be read in churches. Authorised King James Version (1611) or [KJV]



My path to setting these words to music has been indirect. Because ecclesiastes: a modern oratorio began life as music for choreographer Gina Gibney's 2002 Time remaining, the music has always focused on time: its mystery, its power, its incomprehensibility, its inevitability. Gina had been cautious about the inclusion of text when we started, because she didn’t want to diminish the message of the dance itself. This biblical passage about time, we felt, would add a neutral aesthetic commentary because it was so familiar.

To finish out the seven time couplets, I found a portion of a lesser-known verse from deeper in the chapter, and modernized the verb endings:

That which has been is now, and that which is to be has already been.

—Eccles. 3:15, my translation or [KB]


Which seemed as magnificent and quintessential as I could ever hope for.
 
After our (mine and the Time Remaining Band’s, as my six-man ensemble came to call itself) collaboration with Gina Gibney Dance ran its course, I decided the music should continue life as an oratorio. There was more instrumental participation and more narrative purpose than a traditional choral song cycle, but it wasn’t the sort of drama I could see chopping up into the quick and sassy repartee of opera recit. There was dialogue but it was thoughtful and internal, often between a singer and himself, an instrument and a singer or even between two instruments.

To crystallize an oratorio narrative, I stripped out as much of the non-biblical text as I could, without undoing the ensemble’s vivid grasp of the existing piece, and returned to the Book of Ecclesiastes. I wanted to find out more about the context of the passage above: what led up to it and what followed.

Right away, I was confused by the King James translation of Chapter 1, which begins:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem:
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labor that he taketh under the sun?

—Eccles. 1:1-3 [KJV]


This opening struck me as carping (1:2-3), nowhere near as magnanimous as the verses I'd set from Chapter 3. It was hard for me to understand how one preceded the other. Chapter 1 moves on to describe the grand cycles of nature, but those verses (1:4-7) close with a cryptic eighth verse in the King James Version:

All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

—Eccles. 1:8 [KJV]



I decided there must be something about the early 17th-century (Hampton Court Conference of 47 religious scholars convened by King James in 1604-1611) translation I wasn't getting. So I sat down and re-translated the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes myself, comparing the early 5th-c. Latin Vulgate and the Masoretic Hebrew of the 11th-c. Leningrad Codex with the King James for added insight into possible interpretations. (I am ever grateful to the Internet Sacred Text Archive for electronic access to this information.)

Here's what I got:

All these things are incomprehensible. We cannot fully behold them, nor consider their extent.

—Eccles. 1:8 [KB]



My translations differed from traditional interpretations in many respects. I wasn’t sure if I was right, wishful, or a liar so creative I fooled myself. So I studied further…


Please read further thoughts on interpretation and translation, both musical & verbal, by inserting the CD in a computer:

Š              seeing ecclesiastes through the kaleidoscope of time & belief

Š              hearing ecclesiastes: notes on a modern oratorio

 



- # # # -


ecclesiastes: a modern oratorio
by kitty brazelton

1. preface

Generations come and go
but the earth endures beyond mind.

The sun is risen and set
and returned to begin again.

The wind wheels around the zenith—
dark north, bright south—
and repeats the circle.

Every river runs into the sea
but the sea does not fill
yet the rivers continue to spring.

All these things
are incomprehensible:
we cannot fully behold them
nor consider their extent.
Whatever was before
is what will be again;
nothing is new.

There is no memory of former things.
There will be no recollection after this.
Every thing you've done
will be done again
by someone who thinks it's the first time
.

Only god knows
the beginning and ending
of all things.

Eccles. 1:4-11; 3:11 [KB]


2. the beginning and ending of all things

[no words]

3. motet

To every thing
there is a season
and a time to every purpose
under heaven:

A time to be born
and a time to die.
A time to plant
and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
A time to kill
and a time to heal.

A time to break down—
and a time to build up.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh!
A time to mourn, and a time to dance!

A time to cast away to stones
and a time to gather stones together.

A time to embrace
and a time to refrain from embracing.


A time to get
and a time to lose.

A time to keep
and a time to cast away
A time to rend
and a time to sew.
A time to keep silence—shhh
and a time to speak—speak!
A time to love, and a time to hate
A time of war, and a time of—peace!

That which has been, is now
and that which is to be
has already been.

To every thing
there is a season
and a time to every purpose
under heaven.

Eccles. 3:1-8, 15 [KJV & KB]


4. bells

[no words]

5. time to go, time to remain

keith:     time to go, time to remain

mark:     under time

david:    time to build up, time to break down

6. that which has already been is now

john:    that which has already been is now
is under heaven
is now
is under

a time to embrace
and a time to refrain from embracing

7. heaven

HEAVEN

8. a time to every purpose

mark:     time down… (planted)

john:     try time to go to get...
try to stay time to go to get time to let go…
try time to go

david:     break build up time...
break build up time tension...
break down build up time ready tension to…
break

keith:     away time...
away time to remain...
away time to remain time to go…
away

9. under
To—
there is a season—a season—

UNDER

To—
To every—

10. bells and words
What do you gain from working hard all your life?

I have been in this world of affairs
where god has placed the family of humankind.
God has made all things beautiful in their time
but he has hidden this beauty in forever
so that no one of us
can see our true calling
from start
to finish.

I feel then
that there is nothing to do
but be happy, joyous and of service while we are alive.
We must eat and drink and enjoy the good things
which come of all our worry and toil
because these
are god's gifts to us.

I know that whatever god does it is forever:
nothing can be added, nothing taken away
and we must accept and respect it.
And the future god seeks is the past:
that which has been is now
and that which is to be
has already been.

Eccles. 3:9-15 [KB]


11. time

the big drum

mark:    under time, under time, over time, under time, under time…
keith:    time to go, time to remain, time to go, time to go, time to remain…
john:    that which has already is now purpose under been that which, under, purpose, that which…
david:    time to break down, time to build up, time to keep, time to cast away

under time, under time, over time, under time, under time…
time to go, time to remain, time to go, time to go, time to remain…
that which has already is now every purpose under now…
time to break down, time to build up, time to keep, time to cast away, time to cast away

cello

under time, under time, over time, under time, under time…
time to go, time to remain, time to go, time to go, time to remain…
that which has already is now purpose under been that which, under, purpose, that which…
time to break down, time to build up, time to keep, time to cast away

To every thing there is a—

all drums

(instant)
(this is)
(a purpose)
(break down)

(an instant is a lifetime)
(this is)
(a purpose)
(break down)

To every thing there is a season

un, under
trrt tt t, trrt tt re, trrt rerere, trrt tereret tt go, trr rere, trrerere, rrerere, to rere, to rere, to rere, time to, time to…
ev v very every purpose, pp pur purpose nnn now heaven…
break down, break down, build up, break down, break down, and build up, and build up, and cast away, and cast away

(under time, under time, over time, under time, under time)
(time to go, time to remain)
(that which, purpose, under)
(time to break down, time to build up, time to look)

cello
(an instant is a lifetime)
(but a life this is the line)
(each year has a beginning and an ending, each year is divided into days, each day consists of many hours)
(break down)

That which has been is now
and that which is to be
has already been.

under time, under time, over time, under time, under time…
time to go, time to remain, time to go, time to go, time to remain…
that which has already is now purpose under been that which, under, purpose, that which…
time to break down, time to build up, time to keep, time to cast away


12. beyond mind
[no words]


CREDITS

the time remaining band:
david bryan:
countertenor, mandolin (y bell)
john brauer: tenor, x bell
keith borden: baritone, z bell
mark lin: bass, c bell
matt goeke: cello, d bell, conducting
alex vittum: extended drum kit, concert bass drum, hammered dulcimer, e bells, and small bells
with kitty brazelton: laptop drones & soundtracks, conducting, voice

produced by kitty brazelton with tom bogdan
recorded by julie last at dreamland, west hurley, ny
mixed by scott lehrer at 2nd story sound, lower east side, new york city

All rights reserved © &
2009, Catherine Bowles Brazelton & Snicim Vinahel (ASCAP).

ecclesiastes: a modern oratorio grew out of a project called Time Remaining commissioned by Gina Gibney Dance and made possible by Danspace Project's 2002-2003 Commissioning Initiative with support from the Joyce-Mertz Gilmore Foundation, DANCECleveland, Music and Performing Arts at Trinity Cathedral, Live Music for Dance Program of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, administered by the American Music Center, Public Funds from The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The Bossak/Heilbron Charitable Foundation, The Harkness Foundation for Dance and Meet The Composer’s Composer Performance Fund. Portions of whispered text in time written by Gina Gibney and used with her permission.

Kitty would like to thank Gina Gibney for helping to bring this project into existence, for creating venues and sustaining it during infancy and childhood. And Bennington College for their generous and continuing help with recording costs. And the New York State Music Fund, Innova Recordings, Philip Blackburn and American Composers Forum for making this record possible.

Further thanks:

Alex would like to thank the Vittum family, Bianca Bockman, Milford Graves. Keith would like to thank Johannes, Edmonia, Miles, Elektra, GHMS, & the Nadam. John thanks Kitty and Tom for inspiration and encouragement. Mark, who took care of us all so lovingly, says no special credits on his side, just forge on ahead. David would like to thank the musicians and dancers who made it so much damn fun as well as all those who have encouraged him on his path (his parents, Aunt Sue, Gloria Timberlake, the Episcopal Church, Ann Young, Eleanor McCrickard, Charlie Hawes, John Sopper, his New Years Eve Crew, mother nature, the buddha and Jerry Garcia) and Tom for getting him the gig. Matt would like to thank Kitty and Gina for the creating the project, all the dancers for their inspiration, and all the guys for being such great colleagues; and he would like to thank Ina –– always Ina first. Kitty would like to thank Amitai Gross, Elizabeth Coleman, Kyle Gann, Rosie Mandel and Philip Blackburn for their help with the essays.

And Kitty would like to dedicate this record to her father.

Supported in part by a grant from the New York State Music Fund, established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

 

Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn: director, design

Chris Campbell: operations manager

www.innova.mu