Created and Directed by Dennis Connors, Ashcan Films 2009, 18 mins
In August of 2009, photographer and film maker Dennis Connors asked me to compose and record music for this film. The film documents the kinetic energy and wholly individualistic style of Alex Masket, an incredibly talented visual artist with severe autism.
I am so pleased to announce that my quintet recording of “Music for The Last Flower” has just been released by Planet Art Records and is now available to the public! This 45-minute suite features: Mark Dresser-bass, Gerry Hemingway-drums, Marty Ehrlich-alto sax/clarinet and my long time cohort in all things quintet and big band, trombonist Ben Williams.
The James Thurber book “The Last Flower-A Parable in Pictures” was the source of inspiration for this music. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, here is a brief synopsis and history of the book.
The story begins at the end of WWXII and the near destruction of civilization, love and art. As the story continues, a young woman finds a flower, dances for joy and finds a young man, to which she shares her discovery. Soon, civilization begins again, trees and flowers begin to grow, art returns, and so do the soldiers, generals and liberators. Once again, war begins, and this time the destruction is so complete, that only one woman, one man and one flower are left.
In September 1939, distraught from the German invasion of Poland, James Thurber sat down at his writing desk in his suite at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, took out his favorite yellow paper and penned 53 drawings and 400 hundred words in 3 hours entitled “The Last Flower-A Parable in Pictures”. Two months later, Thurber’s publisher Harper & Brothers, immediately went to print with the book, setting aside another book of Thurber’s ,“Fables for Our Time”, which was already set to be published. “The Last Flower” was published and released in early November, with a dedication to his daughter Rosemary, “ in the wistful hope that her world will be better than mine.” Out of all of the books, short stories, plays and cartoons that Thurber penned, “The Last Flower” was his favorite. On his gravestone, etched under his name, lies the tiny flower from the end of the book.
My first encounter with “The Last Flower” was during my senior year in high school. The year was 1974/75, and many conflicts were on my mind and the minds of my fellow students: the Watergate Scandal, a vote for impeachment of President Nixon to resign, the Symbionese Liberation Army, Patricia Hearst, the fall of Saigon, the Khmer Rouge, and the energy crisis, just to name a few. The biggest event was the tornado that had just come through our small town, destroying homes, schools and businesses, leaving two people dead in its wake. When I read “The Last Flower” I was so moved by the story, and it’s plea for peace, that I immediately started some compositional sketches, with the intent of collaborating on a ballet with a friend of mine. Soon, we graduated from high school, and went our separate ways, but I kept my sketches, hoping that one day I would have the opportunity to compose a suite, and bring this story to life through music. Thankfully, that opportunity came to me in 2003, when Chamber Music America awarded me a grant through their New Works: Creation and Presentation program.
I went back to my original sketches, which amounted to maybe 16 measures, played through them, and it was as if the music had been waiting for me to come back. After 29 years of lying in wait, the music came alive, and I picked up where I had left off. I went on a sonic exploration of the implied sounds of the words and drawings in the book. I transcribed the rhythms of tanks, machine guns and bombers from WWII movies and various documentaries. I imagined what desolation and hopelessness would sound like, and the sound of trees and flowers growing, if they could sing to us. I wove structured and free improvisation together, keeping in mind the unique talents that each band member of the quintet possesses.
In 2004 it was premiered by my quintet at the Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair, NJ and the Renee Weiler Recital Hall at the Greenwich Music School in New York City. It has been performed several times since then; the Cornelia St Café (NY,NY, Sept 2012), The 7th Annual New Jazz Series “Off the Edge of the Page” (Austin,TX, June 2008) and the Modern American Composers Series- Burgdorf Cultural Center (Maplewood, NJ, Sept 2005), where I also presented a workshop of the music with music students at Columbia High School.
We had a beautiful live recording from our premiere at the Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair, NJ, engineered by John Guth, but felt a studio recording was the next step.
Fast forwarding to 2011, I partnered with Planet Arts Records and applied for a recording grant through the American Music Center’s (now New Music USA) Composers Assistance Program and received the news 4 months later that we were awarded the grant. Finding a time when everyone was in the same location proved to be quite the challenge, with Mark Dresser now relocated to San Diego and Gerry Hemingway relocated to Switzerland, but we found “one day”, which would occur 9 months later, where we could all be at Tedesco Studios, which included Gerry flying in that morning from Canada in a round about way back to Switzerland.
It has now been almost 40 years since I first thought of creating this music, and the journey has had many ups and downs, but it has been most definitely a profound and beautiful journey. Many thanks to everyone who helped bring this project to life; Gaylord French and the Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair, John Guth, members of the quintet,Tom Tedesco, Bruce Hanson, Dennis Connors, Rob Henke, Chamber Music America, New Music USA, Andy Eulau, Tom Bellino and Planet Arts..thank you for all of your support!
Will we ever have peace? I don’t have an answer for that question. What I do know is that peace begins with each one of us, individually. We can then share that peace with family, friends and our communities, locally and globally. To quote Hazrat Inayat Khan “There are two aspects of individual harmony: the harmony between body and soul, and the harmony between individuals. All the tragedy in the world, in the individual and in the multitude, comes from lack of harmony…and harmony is the best given by producing harmony in one’s own life. ”
May peace and harmony be with you,
Diane Moser 6 Feb 2014