A Feather in a Shell

 

A Feather in a Shell Six Songs on Original Poems We live in a musical culture that is entranced by the three minute  song.   We project our lives onto the voice and image of the singer who perfectly renders the emotion that we long to understand within our souls.    I do not see myself as a song writer and these poems were not written with the intention of setting them to music but the music came to me so set the poems to the music.   The poems were  written over the course of 5 years and each poem is a reflection  on an experience in my own life.   A Feather in a Shell was written in the middle of the night after I learned that a friend had died, the first death of a someone other than family that I had  experienced.  Amish Sarabande  is a real description of the annual ploughing ritual that my Amish neighbor engaged in when spring finally arrives  in the Driftless region that I have lived in for the last twenty years.  Heaven’s Gate was inspired by the halcyon days of summer in full bloom on our 30 acres homestead in Wisconsin.  Ode to a Orb Weaver  pays homage to the sacred  connection between mother and child.  Encryption  is simply about the silent language of love and nature.  Old House New House was inspired by the experience of helping one  divorced friend move from a home that another friend bought who had recently remarried.

So, these poems tell personal stories that I know well and  it was not long before  I began to hear the music behind the words.  I asked my good friend, Nick Ceramella to translate these poems into Italian.  Italian is a language that I love and its poetic nature really enhances the meaning of my words.  Italian in many ways is easier to set to music because of the natural  flow of consonances and vowels inherent in the language.   It was a challenge to interpret the words in a foreign tongue,  but the nuance of this language added a special lyricism to my music. I originally planned to set the poems in  both English and Italian as separate song cycles.  However, leveraging the scope of expression by setting some in English and some in Italian,  really inspired some extraordinary music that would not have discovered had I composed only in English.   Finally, because I wrote the words I knew exactly what I wanted to say musically so the composing seemed almost effortless. All of these settings are for low voice, but the songs can be transposed to any pitch level upon request. 

Amish Plough Sarabande
Like the slow and steady pulse of a pocket watch, held neatly in the vest pocket, the blades of the plough silently slip into the black earth.
And with each measured pace of the horses gait, the soil is sliced, drawn up and then gently laid down in a dark wake of terra sea.
And from this distance, the harnessed team, plough, and ploughman float serenely in perfect harmony with horizon and meadow.

Sarabanda dell’aratro Amish

Come il ticchettio lento e costante di un orologio da taschino,portato elegantemente nel panciotto, le lame dell’aratro penetrano silenziosamente la nera terra. E al ritmo cadenzato del passo dei cavalli, il suolo è affettato, tirato su e poi adagiato lentamente in un oscuro risveglio di terra mare.  E da questa distanza, la pariglia imbrigliata, l’aratro, e l’aratore fluttuano serenamente in perfetta armonia con l’orizzonte e il prato.

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Heaven’s Gate
In heaven love is a daily feast that lasts all day and into the night. we make due on earth, wrapping up what unfulfilled desires we have left at the end of the day, and storing them in the seamless chambers of our dreams.
I am in a room brightly lit by sunshine. When I touch the keys of a piano, The notes turn into the bright and delicious blooms of flowers.
You mold your hands around the warm faces of your children, They turn to delicate pieces of terra cotta that you will fire in the kiln of your womb.
We share a bowl of raspberries and milk from the sheep and goats that graze in the distant meadow.
The bees fly through the grass, dressed in the silk of corn, steal through the open window and drink from the bowl you have left.
They suck the drops of red blood-juice from our finger tips, and before they dart out the window and journey to the sun, they visit each petal of the flowering notes hanging in the air.

La porta del paradiso

In cielo l’amore è una festa quotidiana che dura tutto il giorno fino a notte. Ce la caviamo sulla terra, incartando quei desideri insoddisfatti che abbiamo abbandonato alla fine della giornata, e riponendoli nelle impenetrabili stanze dei nostri sogni. Mi trovo in una stanza splendidamente illuminata dal sole. Quando tocco i tasti di un piano, le note si trasformano nei luminosi e deliziosi vivaci colori dei fiori. Plasmi con le mani i volti caldi dei tuoi bambini. Essi si trasformano in delicati oggetti di terracotta che cuocerai nel forno del tuo grembo. Dividiamo una ciotola di lamponi e latte delle pecore e delle capre che pascolano nel prato lontano. Le api volano tra l’erba, vestite con la seta del granturco, entrano furtivamente dalla finestra aperta e bevono dalla ciotola che hai lasciato. Esse succhiano le rosse gocce di succo di sangue dai nostri polpastrelli, e prima di saettare fuori dalla finestra e volare verso il sole, visitano ciascun petalo delle note fiorenti sospese nell’aria.

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Listen to a performance of this song by William Neil, piano, and Paola Velvet, alto:

A Feather in a Shell
The dead rise before us floating on the swollen air. Their voices frozen in mid air are now mute behind closed doors.
Their eyes are lost gazing into smoky mirrors that capture The last flicker of sun as it winds through old dusty rooms and out the back door.
Exhausted from their joyful farm days, they delighted in their evening meals, the conversation into the night, the surrender to lamp lit beds.
Black and white photos slip from the back of old books.
Their souls ask to be carried from where they fell to the edge of town. Let us guide them to where the wind tears the black clouds above the trees.
They will float to the highest branch of the oldest tree on the darkest night of the year, then disappear.
We knew all along that the music had reached its rallentando, the slowing dancers, now locked time were taken by a stiffness that diminished them to stillness.
Now a quiet settles in our ears like a feather in a shell.

Una piuma in una conchiglia I morti risorgono davanti a noi fluttuando nell’aria rigonfia. Le voci congelate a mezz’aria ora sono mute dietro le porte chiuse. I loro occhi sono persi fissando gli specchi affumicati che catturano l’ultimo guizzo di sole mentre s’insinua tra vecchie stanze polverose e fuori della porta di servizio. Esausti dopo le dure giornate nei campi, soddisfatti delle cene, della conversazione fino a notte fonda, e di abbandonarsi sui letti illuminati dalle lampade. Foto in bianco e nero scivolano dalle pagine di vecchi libri. Le loro anime chiedono di essere portate da dove sono cadute alla periferia della città. Accompagnamole dove il vento squarcia le nere nuvole sopra gli alberi. Fluttueranno fino al ramo più alto dell’albero più vecchio nella notte più buia dell’anno, poi scompariranno. Sapevamo fin dal principio che la musica aveva raggiunto il rallentando, i ballerini ballando più lentamente,ora chiusi nel tempo, erano colti da un intorpidimento che li riduceva all’immobilità. Ora il silenzio si posa nelle nostre orecchie come una piuma su una conchiglia.

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Encryption
Today we walked together by the sea, and the roar of the surf engulfed the melody of your voice.
Your words were encrypted by the sound of the incessant water rushing up the beach,
leaping towards us, its hissing tongues foaming and spraying between our legs.
I have become entranced by the sound of the ocean and he endless wash of water on the shore.
I am drawn to ocean because it is forever whispering what you said to me when we walked together by the sea.

Criptaggio

Oggi abbiamo passeggiato assieme in riva al mare, e il mugghio della risacca ha sommerso la melodia della tua voce. Le tue parole erano criptate dal suono incessante dell’acqua che s’infrange sulla spiaggia, balzando verso di noi, le sue lingue spumeggianti e spruzzanti tra le nostre gambe. Sono rimasto estasiato dal suono dell’oceano e l’eterno sciabordio dell’acqua sulla spiaggia. Dall’ oceano sono attratto perchè sempre sussura ciò che mi dicesti quando passeggiammo assieme in riva al mare.

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Ode to an Orb Weaver
Great baby-ball belly, a melon roundness, gently rises and falls at each breath.
Gigantic girth cradles the womb, fertile as the darkest amazonian earth.
A silken thread is extracted through the navel as the music of Bach plays on silver cords of an orb weaver’s web.
The spider watches from the corner of the garden. In the shadow of sleep,
each breath is a single note in the minor key of acquiescence.
The rhythm of a drum is felt from deep within. While you sleep, I swim in a torrential sea that moves beneath us.
The ocean fills the bathtub and on a moonless night, you rise from the water chanting spiritus asper, spiritus lenis, until voice and breath are one.
The dark and dreadful music suddenly changes to a major key and At dawn a cargo of sunshine arrives at your beside.
The rain has washed the garden clean. Your breasts firm like unripened grapes soften in the sun and are filled with sweet nectar.
Our fingers touch where the spider has rebuilt his web.

Ode a un ragno

Grande pancia-palla di pupo, una rotondità da melone, si alza e si abbassa ad ogni respiro. Un’enorme circonferenza culla il grembo, fertile come la terra amazzonica più scura. Un filo di seta viene estratto dall’ombelico mentre la musica di Bach è suonata sulle corde d’argento della tela di un ragno. Il ragno osserva dall’angolo del giardino. Nell’ombra del sonno, ciascun respiro è una sola nota nella chiave minore dell’acquiescenza. Il ritmo di un tamburo si sente dall’ intimo. Mentre tu dormi, io nuoto in un mare torrenziale che si muove sotto di noi. L’oceano riempie la vasca da bagno e in una notte di luna piena, tu ti ergi dalle acque cantando spiritus asper, spiritus lenis, finchè la voce e il respiro non si fondono. La musica fosca e spaventosa cambia improvvisamente  in una chiave maggiore e all’alba un cargo di luce solare raggiunge il tuo letto. La pioggia ha ben ripulito il giardino. I tuoi seni turgidi come uva acerba si raddolciscono al sole e si riempiono di dolce nettare. Le nostre dita toccano dove il ragno ha ritessuto la sua tela.

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Old House New House
The house is empty and all the furniture gone. Those mirrors were so heavy with our vanity, we left them for the buyer.
How silly we were to believe our dreams would end here.
When we arrived, we posted paper signs to let the movers know where to set things. The white chair here, the tall dresser there, the old couch in the basement. It seemed like a great idea but everything got stacked up; now we can’t find anything.
We forgot to make signs make for sadness, joy, and loneliness that we brought with us. One night we will rise, sleepwalk to a candle lit corner and find that we must have lived here in a past life; our shadows have left the walls stained.
On a spring day, when the house felt light and breezy, I dreamt of wandering again to a new place. But a voice moaned from the attic “leave at your own peril”.
We did anyway.
As with the other houses, this new place is not perfect; Like the abbreviated kitchen with its sawed off counters and the miniature cupboards. What were they thinking that a meal would be simply about opening a few boxes, dumping ingredients in a pan cooked over an orange glowing disk?
I prefer the roasting over an open fire, communal meals; the gone-to-the- market sprawling affairs. The sound of chopping vegetables and sauté aromas seasoning our conversation.
How ironic to read “Give Us Thou Our Daily Bread” stenciled over the kitchen threshold.
The ghosts of the previous occupants after sizing us up, are scribbling on the walls: “Thou Shall Not Want Brie and Croissant”.

Vecchia casa nuova casa

La casa è vuota e tutto il mobilio non c’è più. Quegli specchi molto appesantiti dalla nostra vanità, li abbiamo lasciati all’acquirente. Quanto siamo stati stupidi a pensare che i nostri sogni sarebbero finiti qui. Quando arrivammo, affiggemmo dei cartelli per dire ai traslocatori dove mettere le cose. La sedia bianca qua, l’alto armadietto  là, il vecchio divano in cantina. Sembrava una buona idea, ma è stato tutto accatastato; ora non riusciamo a trovare niente. Dimenticammo di preparare dei cartelli per la tristezza, la gioia, e la solitudine che portavamo con noi.  Una notte ci alzeremo, cammineremo come sonnambuli verso un angolo illuminato da una candela e scopriremo che forse abbiamo vissuto qua in una vita passata; le nostre ombre hanno lasciato le pareti macchiateUn giorno di primavera, quando la casa si sentiva leggera e ariosa, sognai di vagabondare verso una nuova casa. Ma una voce si lamentò dall’attico “te ne vai a tuo rischio e pericolo!” Ce ne andammo comunque. Come le altre case, questo nuovo posto non è perfetto; il cucinotto con i banconi segati e le credenze miniaturizzate. Ma che pensavano che preparare un pasto consistesse solo nell’aprire poche scatole, buttare degli ingredienti in un tegame e cuocerli su una piastra arancione incandescente? Preferisco l’arrosto all’aria aperta, pasti in comune; preparati con ciò che s’è trovato al mercato. Il rumore di verdure tagliuzzate e aromi sauté che condiscono la nostra conversazione. Quant’è ironico leggere “Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano” stampinato sulla soglia della cucina. I fantasmi degli inquilini precedenti  dopo averci inquadrato, stanno scarabocchiando sulle pareti: “Non ti mancheranno brie e cornetto!’

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Word and Music Copyright 2015 William Neil

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