A Solemn Shyness is a piece for piano and ambience inspired by a fragment of text Emily Dickinson wrote on the program for a concert she may or may not have attended in June 1873.
Of our deepest delights there is a solemn shyness
The appetite for silence is seldom an acquired taste
The music is an abstraction of the harmony of a phrase from the Adagio of Mendelssohn’s First Organ Sonata. There is also an embedded gesture towards the hook from a Kanye West song (“run away fast as you can”) because I think Emily and Kanye might possibly have something useful to say to one another.
A Solemn Shyness was commissioned by Bang on a Can with support from Oscar Gerardo for the pianist Lara Downes, and premiered online on 21 February 2021. You can experience her recording by visiting 27 June in A Book of Days.
The score is notated as a continuous version of the piece, but the idea is that the performer will pause and make space between phrases whenever s/he feels the urge. The effect makes me think of how deer and other animals graze: constantly stopping to listen, to check out their surroundings. Playing the piece straight through takes about four minutes, but I can imagine a performance that takes twice that time, or perhaps even more. I have made an ambient soundtrack, which can be either audio only or audio-video, of a snowstorm at dusk on Inauguration Day 2021 in Brandon, VT. You can use this soundtrack, or you are welcome to make your own in a quiet outdoor place in the season and closer to the location where you will be playing the piece.
For my version of the pre-recorded track, I gradually add an Eb resonance/reverb to the soundscape. The idea is to do it subtly enough that only the most attentive will hear how the line between music and natural sound has been blurred. The effect is stronger on headphones, so it’s kind of hard to decide how far to go with it. I am happy to share my settings as a starting point.
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