Preludes for Uncertainty

In 2020 we are experiencing a pandemic situation that has been unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. The world as we knew it will not be the same. This project evolved as as way of putting the emotions I have felt during 2020 into musical form. My intent with these pieces is to create empathy with the listener. Following are the “live” YouTube videos I recorded during quarantine.

1. Isolation

This is the first in the set. It features a repetitive left hand figure with a melody that changes between positive and somber. There is a thin texture, representing the feeling of being isolated and alone. The middle section is melancholy–wondering how long will we be in this situation.

2. Restricted

All of a sudden we have restrictions imposed on us that send us so many messages. I wanted to create a piece that had its own restrictions. The right hand melody in this piece uses just the notes B, C#, D, and E (you will hear a couple of other notes in this range but they are not part of the overall melody). Similarly, the left hand has the same chord progression throughout, just changing patterns. Even though we are restricted there is still much we can do, and hope and peace can still exist in this state.

3. Contemplation

J.S. Bach is one of my favorite composers of all time. He wrote thousands of works, many of which were in a form known as a chorale. A chorale is usually a piece in 4 parts that is often sung at a church service. I wrote this piece on Bach’s birthday, March 21. Some of the harmonies are peaceful, some of them contain lots of tension. Some of the rhythms are regular, some are irregular. These two elements combined reflect how I am feeling as we navigate one day at a time: sometimes hopeful, sometimes somber, trying to find a grounding presence.

4. Separation (Six Apart)

This piece has a dual meaning: six feet apart, as dictated by social distancing, as well as six degrees apart–this affects every single one of us. The motifs in the right hand figure are in the musical interval of a 6th, which provides interesting harmonies throughout. The faster tempos in some parts of this piece are inspired by my running friends. Through this pandemic, we have been meeting and running 6-10 feet apart, being very careful to not have too large of a group. There are no cars on the road, so it is not that hard to do. The piece builds to a frenzy, how long will we have to stay six feet apart? It ends with the intervals getting smaller and harmonies more peaceful. Hope.

5. Bergamo

I wrote this piece the day I read a haunting article in the NY Times about a region in Italy that was extremely hard hit with the virus. Bergamo is approximately the same size as the city I live in, so the facts were even more sobering. My family and I really love both New York and Italy, and we follow the soccer teams of this region. I wanted to write something that was a lament for anyone who has lost someone close to their hearts from this virus. The opera composer, Donizetti, was from Bergamo. Therefore I wrote this in the “bel canto” operatic style, flowing themes with a painful melody. The big buildup at the end represents the exponential path of this disease. All we can do is mourn.

6. Forest Canopy

One element of this quarantine that has been a true positive is that I have been able to appreciate nature even more. The birds are still singing, the daffodils are blooming, the grass is green. We are fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest and have a couple of city parks with some pathways that envelop you in nature. Some of them are a true rainforest just minutes from my front door. This piece was inspired by a walk with my family to one of these parks that has hundreds of tall Douglas fir trees with many varieties of moss. Next to the trees are ferns and all sorts of other green plants, with hints of color in some of the blossoms. Something about the color green is peaceful and expansive. The slow tempo in this piece is meant to reflect the grandeur of these majestic trees and the infinite feeling you have when you look up in the forest.

7. Droplets

The word “droplet” became everyday discourse during spring 2020. Tiny moist particles. In the context of the pandemic, droplet has a negative, dark connotation. But as one of my running friends pointed out, the droplets of the rain in the forest are peaceful and soothing. This piece juxtaposes both types of droplets–the small whiffs of droplets and the steady rain.

8. Family

This piece is dedicated to my family–immediate, extended and honorary. I am grateful to be part of a large and wonderful family. We have been able to connect in different ways during this time. I wanted to write something that was heartfelt and familiar, seeing how we are navigating so many unknowns right now. So, this piece is a piano pop ballad. There are not lyrics for this but I did imagine the words “We are Family” in the chorus section.

9. Restless (Days on Repeat)

This darker piece depicts what I am feeling many of these days. What day is it? Is it a weekday? A weekend? The music repeats with a different key and left hand motif. Some variations are more intense than others and the piece ends with a hopeful mood. Things will change, we just don’t know when.

10. Unclaimed

I saw a haunting photo of an island off of New York City where workers were digging huge trenches to be used as graves for bodies of people who perished from COVID 19 that were unclaimed. These people were someone’s children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. I can’t erase this image from my mind and this piece is a tribute to those souls.

11. Spring (Still Came)

During COVID-19 it felt like everything stopped. But nature didn’t stop. Flowers started blooming. Birds built their nests. Baby animals arrived in the backyard. We planted seeds. Being quarantined, I was able to better appreciate the beauties of nature. In this piece you will hear a spring-like melody as well as some sounds of nature (chickadees, robins, frogs, water).

12. Lonely

During all of this, even with the extra time connecting with family/friends online, I still feel lonely. I have been fortunate to work out with friends 6 feet apart and have people over on the deck 6 feet apart. But that still feels lonely. What about the people who can’t have any physical contact? They must be lonely.

13. Mutation

We are learning that the Coronavirus itself is going through all sorts of mutations as it spreads around. It all feels very dark and mysterious and fast to me. Are the new mutations worse or better? Will there be a mutation that isn’t as dangerous? This is a quick piece that mutates as it goes, just one or two notes change in every pattern, but the patterns aren’t predictable, just like the virus.

14. Darkness

This piece was written just after the murder of George Floyd. This piece has many inspirations. The #blacklivesmatter movement. The murder of George Floyd. The dark attitude pervading the country. The 400+ years of inequality for African Americans. The hundreds of thousands of deaths related to the coronavirus. This is a mood piece, in the key of C# minor, the same key as Beethoven’s moody Moonlight Sonata. It is repetitive with lots of uncomfortable harmonies. We have to experience darkness to also experience light.

15. Comfort Food

Cheetos, pizza, Pringles……some of my favorite comfort foods! I am usually a pretty clean eater, but I have purchased much more comfort food during the past 6 months than I care to admit! My kids love it of course. And so do I. I hope you enjoy this fun, jazzy, stride piano piece. It took me several takes to get this recording, so Vinny the cat stays in!

16. Amazon (Outbreak)

The inspiration for this piece came from reading several news stories about how coronavirus spread throughout Brazil all the way into the depths of the jungle. These articles contained many vivid photographs which evoked a deep sadness and despair. This is a dark, dissonant piece of music, which also utilises popular Brazilian rhythms. You will hear the relentless “river” in the left hand, which continues throughout the piece without relief.

17. Fatigue

This piece, originally entitled “Unfamiliar Fatigue” was inspired by a fatigue I couldn’t put my finger on. How is it that I can be eating “clean,” working out (but not too much), getting enough sleep, not working a full schedule, and still feel so much fatigue. The only thing I can come up with is that the emotional toll of this virus over so many months has created a fatigue that is unfamiliar. It won’t go away. This is a sad, reflective piece inspired by that emotion.

18. Renewal

“Renewal” is in the key of C major. It alternates from hopeful fast passages to slow, tentative, yet optimistic chords. As of now, we still are full of unknowns, but we must have faith that we can emerge from this time both stronger and more united.

19. Gratitude

This piece is dedicated to our front-line medical professionals. These individuals have been tested in so many ways during this crisis, yet they keep on doing their best, saving lives, and treating people with grace and dignity. Personally, we had very compassionate care from a nurse named Jason when a very close family member passed away of COVID 19. See if you can imagine the words “Thank You” in the chorus section.

Thank you for taking the time to visit this page. I hope these pieces resonate with you–perhaps by listening the music can give a voice to some of the emotions you may be feeling. And may you feel peace and strength as we navigate the world ahead.