Stillwater Marsh, for flute and cello, is based loosely on my many walks through the waterfowl resting area of the same name, located in Bloomington, Indiana. From mid-October to mid-April it serves as a prime spot for duck hunters. During all other months, the marsh is partially drained, with a number of areas still offering a watery refuge for great blue herons, Canada geese, and other marsh birds.
Walking through the marsh in early spring, the first thing you are greeted by is an assault from numerous tree swallows protecting their nests. They divebomb you with a whir of wings and an angry chirp. Once past them, though, you encounter the wide-open spaces of the marsh on one side and a thick row of trees on the other. Bright blue indigo buntings and the occasional scarlet tanager can be seen in the trees, along with common yellowthroats, yellow warblers, and the often breathtaking prothonotary warblers that call these marshy areas their home. Bald eagles watch from the tops of dead trees. Sometimes a wood duck can be heard hiding in some stream.
The music is only a dim reflection of the marsh and its natural repetitions, the air through the trees, the rhythmic chirping of frogs. One can add to this the footsteps of those who wander through it. The opening ‘sigh’ motive repeats many times, with occasional interruptions. But they grow, too. They expand, transform into larger, more complex shapes, until something else enters—a quick descending gesture—that takes over and plunges us into the frenetic middle section. It, too, has its moments of interruption, though most of the time the flute and cello snake around each other at breakneck speed, trying to outdo each other’s acrobatics. The frenzy ends abruptly, replaced by long, low, flickering notes in the cello, supporting the flute’s high, tumbling, turning melodies and sighs, memories from passages before. Gradually, the two instruments move toward each other, bit by bit, until they meet in the middle on the exact two notes with which they began.
Stillwater Marsh was written for Emlyn Johnson and Daniel Ketter and dedicated to them with deepest affection and admiration. A CD recording is forthcoming.
Emlyn Johnson and Daniel Ketter, Tuo