In A Big Enough Umbrella, the solo violist starts off trying to imitate the synth bass, fails at that, and gradually wraps herself in strings who can help her express herself more naturally. I wrote the piece in the midst of a certain amount of turmoil in my mid-20s. The original 1984 version has synth strings as the accompaniment; in 2013, I recorded Mary and Fran Rowell performing the string orchestra parts for a solo performance version with pre-recorded real strings. The piece has also been performed all-live by solo viola, string orchestra, and dueling synth bass players. The title comes from a line in a then-current pop song by the Police: “It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” (Sting has reused the line in three different songs over the years: I guess he like likes it a lot, too.)
A Big Enough Umbrella was originally commissioned by and dedicated to the violist Lois Martin, supported by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The Montpelier Chamber Orchestra under Anne Decker premiered the string orchestra version in 2013, with Mary Rowell as the solo violist.
You can hear Michael Strauss playing A Big Enough Umbrella with the original pre-recorded synths at September 19th in A Book of Days.
Here is a score of the piece.
You can perform the piece with pre-recorded synth track (i.e. the original 1980s synth version); with pre-recorded acoustic track (i.e. with real strings and basses on the backing track); or I can send string orchestra and synth bass parts for live performance. Please email for pricing on these three alternative versions, and thanks, as always, for supporting this informal way of publishing.
The inspiration for Michael’s Spoon was this text from the end of J.M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel The Life and Times of Michael K.
And if the old man climbed out of the cart and stretched himself (things were gathering pace now) and looked at where the pump had been that the soldiers had blown up so that nothing should be left standing, and complained, saying, “What are we going to do about water?,” he, Michael K, would produce a teaspoon from his pocket, a teaspoon and a long roll of string. He would clear the rubble from the mouth of the the shaft, he would bend the handle of the teaspoon in a loop and tie the string to it, he would lower it down the shaft deep into the earth, and when he brought it up there would be water in the bowl of the spoon; and in that way, he would say, one can live.
J. M. Coetzee: Life and Times of Michael K
Michael’s Spoon was originally written as an all-electronic piece which is the second movement of the five-movement piece The Garden of Cyrus. That piece was released on my 1998 CD, Overstepping.
Michael’s Spoon is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to the electronic version and watch Mechele Manno’s video by visiting February 9th.
The chamber ensemble version of Michael’s Spoon was originally made in 2004 for performances by the Robin Cox Ensemble. You can download a score of that version here. You are welcome to substitute instruments as desired for your ensemble. Alternatively, the piece can be performed by a solo player on the cello part (or shared by low brass), with all the other parts pre-recorded. Here’s a performing score of the two-trombone version. In addition, there’s now a 2018 quartet version for trombone, piano, and one or two percussionists (on glock and vibes.) When you order the performance materials, let me know what version you’re interested in. I can also supply the score in xml format so you can make your own arrangement. Thanks for your interest in Michael’s Spoon!