View a full performance of this work on YouTube.
Commissioned by Dunja Jennings and Dedicated to "Friends of Rain"
Old World Passing is a trio written in response to a commission by my friend, clarinetist Dunja Jennings, who was looking for a work evoking a sense of memory or remembrance. While running errands one day, early in the planning stages of the piece, I came upon an area of remembrance that resonated with me. Specifically, I was standing in line at the Post Office mailing off a package and thinking about how anachronistic the activity seemed now. I began to think how often I had stood in line at Post Offices and how, gradually over time, I was no longer relying on the Postal Service for delivering materials. The day is surely coming when this way of sending most materials will disappear altogether. This line of thinking soon led to all the other activities from my childhood that have disappeared or are in the process of vanishing. I knew then that Old World Passing would be centered on remembrances of things passing away from this world.
I began working on the piece by making a short list of activities I remembered most vividly. In addition to the aforementioned use of the Postal Service, the list included playing records, rolling up a car window manually, using a pay phone (especially a rotary pay phone), hearing a busy signal and riding my bike without a helmet. There were many more memories, but these seemed enough on which to build the composition. Next, instead of trying to literally represent all those remembrances individually, I decided to focus on three motivic elements that would represent most of them.
The piece is generally wistful and bittersweet throughout. It opens with steady repetitive note that gradually develops into a circular motive. There is not one simple circular motive but rather, the piece builds layers of multiple figures in different rhythms throughout. The repetitive note represents the monotony of waiting in a long line at the Post Office or the repetitive nature of a busy signal on the phone while the use of various circular motivic ideas suggests to me the spinning of an LP, the rolling up of a car window, use of a rotary phone and riding a bike helmet free. No particular idea is meant to represent any particular memory. Rather, the use of the layering in different rhythms is meant to represent how my thoughts wandered upon these memories one on top of another.
There is one musical moment that does serve as a more literal depiction of a singular memory. At the climax of the piece, the clarinet plaintively plays the last few bars of the “Star Spangled Banner” presented in a slightly altered fashion. There follows immediately a buzzing of notes in the marimba and guitar. This is all meant to recreate a moment in time surely lost forever; the time when television stations actually signed off the air at midnight by playing the National Anthem then dissolving into a test pattern until dawn.