An artist residency at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico
(How it stays with me and begot my first CD And So It Begins)
By Debra Kaye
We used to joke about it…Taos seemed to have its own sense of time, subjective and changing, like the drama of its light, piercing the storm clouds. At 8000 feet, closer to the heavens, there was something palpably different about the place. I read a layman’s guide to quantum physics – how everything is vibration and that the earth itself vibrates at a very low hertz. I sat on my porch and tried to listen to it. If you could hear it anywhere, I was sure it was here. I didn’t exactly hear it, but maybe that’s what I felt. My biggest fear while I was there was that I would forget the wonder of the place and of time expanding before me – 3 months to compose, explore and just be.
Visions by Debra Kaye, Elizabeth Wolff, piano; Roxanne Rea, video
To recall the magic of Taos, the light, the air...
in three remembrances - the first night there, the waning of summer, a visit to Georgia O-Keeffe's home in Abiquiu.
Commissioned by Access to Music.
The first night there I woke at 4 in the morning, and went to the window: it was full of stars, big ones, little ones, yes, like diamonds in the sky. I sat at the piano and improvised what later would become the first of the Visions. And it turned out, through that group of pieces and now with Roxanne Rea’s dreamscape video of them, I haven’t forgotten, and when I clear the decks (the mind and all) I can still return to that open sense of fresh air and possibility.
When I returned to New York City after the first summer, (I had the great good fortune of two summers in Taos) I gave a concert of new and recent work, collaborating with performers who had been commissioning and playing my pieces. This was the first of several concerts that culminated in my recent CD And So It Begins. The title piece, a sextet for strings and tenor saxophone, was written during my second summer in Taos. (That summer I also met my now partner, writer Roger Aplon, who was my next-door neighbor at the Wurlitzer.)
The return to New York City was culture shock at first. Walking through crowded Harlem streets, I enveloped myself in a Native American folk tune that I had sung while walking off the grid on Indian land – Now I walk in beauty/Beauty is before me/Beauty is behind me/Above and below me. Through the sirens and screeching cars, I heard a man singing a gospel version of This Little Light of Mine. We smiled at each other as we each continued our songs. This was the impetus for another piece, this time to integrate these experiences (and these tunes). The Beauty Way, the opening piece on the CD, is a trio for viola da gamba, a 7 string pre-cursor to our modern strings. It weaves together three folk tunes to describe what the Navajo call the “beauty way”, those times when we are in harmony with all that is.
Incidental Duckling animates the heartwarming tale of the Ugly Duckling. The music is excerpted from the theatre piece, produced by Literally Alive Theatre, and is also part of a suite of dance and incidental music with a similar title – Incidental Ducklings. Video by Kiersten Armstrong; music by Debra Kaye. Amy Kimball, violin; Arthur Cook, cello; Marcia Eckert, piano.
Now with the CD out, a cap and summary of a certain period, and so it begins, the end, the beginning...
1. The Beauty Way
Martha McGaughey, soprano viol; Jeanne Dorche, tenor viol; Carlene Stober, bass viol
3. Duet After Winter
Amy Kimball & Lynn Becthold, violin
5. Dialogues with the Distant Mountains (excerpts from Mov. I & II)
Javier Oviedo, alto saxophone; Marcia Eckert, piano
2. Finding Accord
Amy Kimball, violin; Arthur Cook, cello; Marcia Eckert, piano
4. Ducks in Summer (excerpted from Incidental Ducklings)
Amy Kimball violin; Arthur Cook, cello; Marcia Eckert, piano
6. And So It Begins (excerpt from Mov. I)
Javier Oviedo, tenor saxophone; Amy Kimball, Lynn Bechtold, violin; Entela Barci, viola; Garo Yellin, cello; Frank Wagner, double bass
New York composer, Debra Kaye has honed her craft collaborating with musicians of Manhattan’s dynamic new music community. And So It Begins, her debut album on Ravello Records, is the result of this cross-pollination, with most of the music played by those who commissioned and premiered it. Music is movement – a concept from Kaye’s Dalcroze studies, these pieces have a visceral, visual quality, balancing pathos and humor, poetry and drama, taking the listener on a wide ranging journey that blends her deep classical roots with traces of jazz, world music, folk and pop. She has been described as “a unique voice in American music, transcendent…witty…colorful…profound.”
Kaye’s music has been played at notable venues in New York City and beyond – uptown at Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, Mannes College, downtown at Bargemusic, DROM, and Spectrum, with radio play on Chicago’s WFMT and other regional stations. Career highlights include awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, Mannes College, Edward T. Cone Foundation, residencies at the Millay Colony and Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and three Off-Off Broadway productions of The Ugly Duckling, with laudatory notice from the NY Times.
A graduate of Mannes College of Music and New York University with degrees in composition and piano performance, Kaye rounded out her musicianship with jazz piano. A faculty member of the Mannes College Preparatory Division, she has served as executive director of the NY Composers Circle and president of the Howland Chamber Music Circle in Beacon, NY.
All photos and images courtesy of Debra Kaye