Song Collector (40’)
voice, clarinet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, guitar, cello, bass, piano, percussion
Composed in 2018; released on Bot Cave Records in 2020
Created with support from the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and West Chester University’s Scholarship and Musical Activities Grant
Song Collector is the second in a cycle of large-scale compositions that engage with the work of the California ethnomusicologist Sidney Robertson Cowell. In 1938, Cowell secured a Works Projects Administration grant for the Northern California Folk Song Project, an undertaking that eventually produced two hundred acetate discs filled with thirty-five hours of field recordings in twelve different languages. These recordings present a remarkably rich depiction of Northern California at a pivotal time in American history.
The first piece to grow out of my fascination with Cowell's work was Field Reports (2016), a chamber septet that weaves together re-imaginations of several folk songs from Cowell’s ambitious California Folk Song Project. Yet the project felt incomplete without including the perspective of the documenter in addition to the documented, especially considering the extent to which Cowell's ambitions and ideals so deeply influenced her exhaustive ethnographic study. Cowell sometimes referred to herself as a "song collector," and I began to wonder about the life of this song collector — about the sometimes lonely and frustrating process of "chasing songs" that Cowell describes in some of her correspondences. Song Collector imagines the story of this remarkable act of preservation from Sidney Robertson Cowell's perspective.