a refrain One keeps playing year after year, concerning the nature of things as they are

for solo classical guitar, 2011, revised 2013

Having never played or written for the guitar before, I nevertheless set myself with the task of composing a refrain One keeps playing… entirely on the instrument itself. The writing process was thus intensely personal for me – I was invested in each note, not just sonically, but also physically. The trajectory of the piece mimics my own gradual discovery of the strengths and idiosyncrasies of the instrument. The choked, brittle sounds of playing high up on the fingerboard progressively give way to the warm, resonant sounds of the open strings. The guitar comes more and more into its own as the music evolves from the angular chattering of the beginning to passages that are more lyrical and song-like (a nod to the guitar’s powerful associations as a folk instrument), finally coming to rest on an actual “song” when the performer is called upon to vocalize at the end of the piece.

Above all, a refrain One keeps playing… was written out of a conviction that composing, performing, and listening all have the potential to be deeply intimate and connective activities (particularly in the case of a solo piece, and perhaps even more particularly, in the case of a solo guitar piece). The inclusion of a text, though perhaps surprising at first, was meant to reflect this belief. While the music is also constantly striving to reach out beyond itself, the words (taken, like the piece’s title, from Wallace Stevens’s 1937 poem cycle The Man with the Blue Guitar) offer another point of connection between the performer and the listener, and they make the physical presence of the performer even more apparent. I was drawn to this particular text because of its tension between the tangible and the intangible, and because Stevens’s description of the sound of a guitar dissolving into a pure sensory experience reinforces my notion of interpersonal connectivity through music.

The piece is dedicated to my friend and colleague Zane Merritt, with much admiration and gratitude.

Zane Merritt, guitar