Joanna: Several months ago artist Ivaana Muse contacted me about the possibility of using my poem “Snow” as the lyrics to her musical composition. I gladly consented, and then Ivaana asked me if there were any sounds I could associate with “Snow.” I should mention, the poem was my reaction to the news of my father being taken to a hospice, where he spent the last few months of his life. Though separated by thousands of miles, in a vision I saw my father in his hospice room. His bed was near a window, which opened to an old park, with dark-green trees swaying in the wind. Then a few images from my youth appeared, among them a bus trip in my native Olsztyn in Poland, to my parents’ house to celebrate the traditional Christmas Eve supper—the Polish Wigilia. For each Wigilia, father used to prepare delicacies only he knew how to make—a Jewish-style pike, carp in aspic, tartar sauce… Sitting on the bus, I watched the lights on Christmas trees glittering in the windows we passed. The streets were empty, snow was falling. Then I saw snowflakes sitting—but not melting—on my father’s hands.
As I thought of Ivaana’s question, the past suddenly started to speak to me not only in images but also in voices. Snow is silent, so the first sound that came to my mind was silence—the mighty language of the dead. There is silence in “Snow”; also the cries and laughter of children running on sleighs, the roar of the bus engine, the trees rustling; finally my father’s voice, once strong and deep, then gradually fading into whisper… I can hear all those sounds in Ivaana’s complex, haunting composition. It is as if through the silence of snow, the voices of our fathers—Ivaana’s and mine—suddenly resounded. Perhaps they now engage in a conversation of which art has managed to capture some distant echo?
Ivaana: I didn’t grow up knowing snow. Snow meant fake cotton balls scattered randomly around the Christmas tree, poetry read in school or stories narrated by my father just before bedtime. Those stories then became the voice of my space spirit. I believed in the power of that voice which commanded me to express my deepest emotions through sound and music. My father then decided to make me experience real snow in a lovely hill station called Nainital in Uttarakhand-India, which crowded around a deep volcanic lake. He told me that the British found their Cumbrian retreat here. For the first time I experienced the silence of snow and recalled Longfellow’s: “the troubled sky reveals, the grief it feels”. Both my dad and I missed my mom (who had renounced the worldly life to find her spiritual core), and the snow kept burying those emotions quietly. The experience was cathartic for us.
Dad and I went for these flake filled walks amid the soundlessness of snow and ended up sharing so much wordlessly. Flake after flake the snow fell and created deep memories that made me aware of the spaces again and again. Years later when I relocated from India to Florida and lived there for 12 years, the memories receded to some unknown corner in the deepest crevices of my brain. And then in 2012 we moved to Massachusetts. Snow came back and I then realized how large of a role auditory memory had played. I could hear my Father’s voice though he had passed away several years ago during my lonesome walks in the snow. My memories about my father seemed to have been imprisoned in an anechoic chamber and the sonic energies trapped for years seemed to crave for release. When I read Joanna Kurowska’s “Snow,” I somehow wanted to manipulate the open spatial acoustics in the poem. I could relate to the interconnecting spaces of heard and unheard sounds and stories in the poem. Simple and profound were these words. I didn’t want to tamper with the words just to structure and bind them to a lyric and make it into a song. I chose to experiment using the aleatoric technique, in which elements of the composition is left to chance. It allowed me to play around with the fragments of the poetic content and my own acoustic memories in a spontaneous un-structured manner. Rhythm, meter, chords, harmony, dynamics did not seem to come in the way of expressing my musical imagination to compose and sing Joanna’s ‘Snow’.
I recorded the sung melody in a single take in my studio letting the element of chance overpower me completely and happily. I felt a strange sense of oneness with unknown mysteries that blurred the boundaries between form and content and became a part of the layered unplanned painted space. I was telling my own story through Joanna’s words, weaving distances, memories, dissonances and harmonies into a continuous musical scroll. Both Joanna and I hope you are able to experience this story of Snow.
As a poem, “Snow” was first published in Penwood Review, and then in Joanna Kurowska’s book of poetry Inclusions (Cervena Barva Press, 2014). The poem is available on Joanna’s website http://joanna-kurowska.com/poems/