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I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing

For flute quartet.

The title is from T. S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; the melody is adapted from a very old Hebrides folk tune representing the singing of mermaids. The sound file was created with software as a demo.

Score and sound file at MuseScore I have heard the mermaids singing

Audio file only at SoundCloud I have heard the mermaids singing

Score pdf and audio files also attached.

As always comments welcome, especially from performers, even if a long time has passed since this was posted/

Image:Evelyn de Morgan - The Sea Maidens

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Hi Jon,

It is an interesting piece and seems to me a departure from what I normally see you post. The repeated passages are appealing and not like anything I have quite heard before, sort of struck me as ancient and modernist at the same time. I had a distinct feeling of wanting to hear choir voices in place of the winds at points. I also wished (not for the first time) that I could hear it through some output mechanism other than MuseScore, which I find more often than not gets in the way of my fully appreciating and understanding a composition. Thanks for posting!

Gav

Thanks for the comments.  I think one thing that's different about this piece from many of my others is that I tried for a hypnotic, wall-of-sound sort of texture. I wondered if there was too much repetition, so I'm encouraged by what you say about it.

The full quote from T. S. Eliot's poem is, "I have heard the mermaids singing each to each," which I also tried to emulate by having a call-and-response pattern in some parts. Eliot's line continues, "I do not think that they will sing to me," -- a line, I've always thought, of heart-breaking understatement -- so people who remember the full line may find some poignancy in the music.

The original melody which I adapted is from the oldest printed collection of Scottish Highland and Island song, A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs by P. Mcdonald, published in 1784.  If, as I suspect, the song was old even then, it may be one of the oldest Scottish folk melodies.

As to the sound file, I find that people composing music as computer music is so common nowadays that I have to keep reminding people that that is not what I am doing.  I compose for performance by actual humanoid entities; the computer generated sound file, like the printed score, are just ways of suggesting what a performance would be like. On the rare occasions when I've gotten a recording of an actual performance of any of my pieces, I put that on the internet and delete any previous computer-generated audio files.

If I ever do get this performed, I'd like to add an ocean drum, but I don't have any practical way of emulating that instrument with software.

Hi Jon,

I love the ancient song and what you did with it. The repetitieve (answering) character fits very well here.

I do understand what Gav means with the output mechanism, but your point of view is valuable too: The piece should be performed live to get all the credits you've put into the score. Even with the most advanced DAWs and the meticulously designed and used samples, a real live performance can't be imitated, although sampled music can sound more perfect and precise than a live one... But indeed the human touch will always be lacking.

Jos

Thanks for the comments, and for liking it. 

The original melody must have originated with people who lived in close association with the sea, probably fishermen, so maybe they actually had heard mermaids!

As for the audio file, no doubt I'm out of step with the times to insist on wanting live performances.  It seems like I've survived long enough to become a dinosaur ...

Jos Wylin said:

Hi Jon,

I love the ancient song and what you did with it. The repetitieve (answering) character fits very well here.

I do understand what Gav means with the output mechanism, but your point of view is valuable too: The piece should be performed live to get all the credits you've put into the score. Even with the most advanced DAWs and the meticulously designed and used samples, a real live performance can't be imitated, although sampled music can sound more perfect and precise than a live one... But indeed the human touch will always be lacking.

Jos

Jon,

I can see where the repetition around the 1:06 mark could become pleasantly mesmerizing. I don't think the player is doing you any favors here in capturing the feel of this music. If one listens in a certain way with the theme in mind it is easy to get the feel of water moving back and forth. Maybe this was the intent of the original composer?

Thanks for sharing.

Yes, there is meant to be a definite watery feel to it. 

But in the case of a folk melody, who the "original composer" was is problematic -- I think most folk melodies evolved through the improvised performances of many generations of performers, so even if you could go back to hear earlier versions, there would be no single one you could pinpoint as the Originalquelle, any more than you could identify one individual person as "my original ancestor." As the composer of the present piece, I tried to bring out an ocean-wave feeling which I perceived in the original melody.  Whether that feeling is objectively in the original or is my fancy is a question that can't be objectively answered.

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