Interview with David Grant

On April 18th at the Chicago Cultural Center, Nathalie Colas and Joann Cho will premiere composer David Grant's Water Ouzel as part of Standing Still: Songs of the Observer. In anticipation, curator and soprano Colas interviews Grant on the creation of this new work.

Nathalie Colas : What text have you used for Water Ouzel and what inspired you to chose it?

David Grant : The song cycle is based on the essay "The Water Ouzel" by John Muir. It is one of the most memorable of his many essays about his observations in Yosemite in the early part of the 20th century. The essay is about the bird, the water ouzel, that spends it's life living next to running water, such as a stream, a waterfall or a river. Muir, observes in his essay that the bird seems to sing for it's own enjoyment as he notices frequently that the bird sings next to extremely loud river rapids or waterfalls making communication practically impossible. I thought this idea was extraordinarily beautiful and it inspired me to write something to evoke that beauty. And, of course what better way to do that then to write music for my beautiful wife to sing.

NC : How have you used text in the piece? Are you using it as a sound object? Does the meaning matter?

DG : The text is only fragments of the essay and it is used sparingly. Much of the time Nathalie sings without text evoking the songs of the bird. The meaning of the essay and the text I use does matter enormously. In fact the text is what determined how the music was to sound. Much like the Florentine Camerata believed that the music should serve the text, this song cycle behaves in the same way.

NC : What interests you in the relationship between the voice and the piano?

DG : Writing for the voice and piano is certainly a challenge, as I usually tend to imagine a wider variety of timbres. As I wrote this piece though I thought the duet of these two (piano and voice) was extremely apt in order to convey the symbiotic relationship between the water ouzel and the water. I'm also thrilled to have two of my favorite musicians, Nathalie and Joann, perform the work.