When I Think of Home- Wildness, Grace and Our Freistadt Beyond

As religious refugees from the King of Prussia, my maternal ancestors named the place they escaped to their “Freistadt” (Free-town). It wasn’t quite a town; it started with a church: Trinity Lutheran Church- Freistadt. 

While living in Puerto Rico, my mom, Carolyn Wille Rivera, wrote an ebullient essay about growing up on a farm where she met God in nature, witnessed the everyday heroism of her parent’s farm-work and the steeple of that Freistadt beyond. When the Orfeo Duo gave me a chance to write something for their "What a Neighborhood!" concert series, I wanted to set passages of my mom's lyrical remembrance. That meant writing a voice part I couldn't sing, and instruments I couldn't play. That meant writing sheet music. 

I didn't know how to do that. When I Think of Home is how I learned.

I imagined how the dramatic outpouring of emotion I feel for my mother’s words and ancestral memories might sound when played out by piano, violin and operatic soprano.

I recorded the whole thing first with my voice, singing both the parts for voice (an octave down) and the instrumental parts wordless as best I could. That recording sounds rough. No one will ever hear it, but my intention was clear. I realized I could do this. I could bring the drama of the page and into carefully planned polyphony. Now I just had to translate it into sheet music that could be played. This was the 2010's. No AI to help. I learned a sheet music software enough to be able to enter one note at a time and then play it back to make sure that's what I intended. I soon realized that I didn't need to listen back to my vocal record, the composition had taken root in my aural imagination. The process took, maybe, 150 hours or so of work.

At the end, I am still only beginning to have any technique in classical comp., but I do have a voice as a composer of music-drama. Thanks to Leanna Hieber, then my foremost interpreter, and the Orfeo Duo for tackling this thorny bouquet of love, emotion and passion. Your virtuoso performances deliver all the beauty and emotion the score intends, while barely hinting how demanding the work is on the performers. If I have the chance to re-write, I'd make it less difficult to perform. And I'd like to go over the score with my mentors Dr. Abe Cáceres and Horace Beasley, to understand how. And to figure out what the heck I was doing here in terms of music theory? I think it's uhm..."a motif driven polyphonic dialectic whose apparent harmonic stability belies a poly-tonality straining between C major, the Phrygian mode and reaching for a G Major 'Freistadt' beyond". However, even though, I think I know what all those words mean separately, no one has ever explained to me what they might mean together.

When I Think of Home has been about growth, time, cultivation, wildness and above all, Grace, reaching toward our Freistadt beyond. Thanks to all who made it happen. Thanks for listening generously to this imperfect recording of a very good performance. Please consider subscribing to support further development.

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