Robinson McClellan ~ composer


THE GYRE (2010)

for baritone and harp
Duration 16 min.
Text: Daniel Neer

Hear the September 2010 performance at Yale by
Daniel Neer, baritone and Alyssa Reit, harp:

Don't see the audio player? Listen here.

TEXT (scroll down for PROGRAM NOTE):

The Gyre

Daniel Neer (2009)

The northern Pacific Ocean has its own Ophelia.
Bordered by continents and a handful of nations
An enormous vastness
Between our shared kingdoms
Its unnatural resource created
By a demanding global family

Kingdoms rivaling each other
Science, industry, human achievement
Billions demanding each others’ attention
Emails, cell phones, beepers, blogs, twitters and tweets
Jockeying for power and instant knowledge
Turning half a globe of coastal kingdoms
Into intimate residents of insular castles
Not at war with each other,
But at war with themselves
And all mankind

She floats with no home
Un-tethered and boundless
From a great height I can almost see
Her long hair and floral headpiece flowing
Out in a northern spectral
And completing the swirl
Floating garments desperately reach out
To strange places
With names like Sapporo, the Aleutians,
Vancouver, Oahu and Taiwan
From a thousand feet above
I swear I can make out her face
The blank eyes just below the surface
Looking up with resignation
She slowly undulates
Dead, but not at rest

I see this beautiful sight from atmosphere’s edge
And being a curious animal
My sponge-thirsty brain
(Savvy from CNN, Dateline NBC and Discovery Channel)
Needs to see more of this Lady’s corpse
Anxious for a closer look
I nose-dive towards the blue abyss

She is comprised of one hundred million tons of plastic
2.5% of all plastic items made since 1950
A massive swirling garbage heap in the Pacific Ocean Gyre
A colorful and translucent kaleidoscope-garland:
Shopping bags, marine craft jetsom, empty water bottles
Baking in the suns glow
Not biodegrading but photodegrading into brittle neustonic bits
One million particles per square mile
Swallowed by fish, gobbled by birds
Who school in a swirl
A mass twice the size of the state of Texas
Souvenirs as far as the eye can see
Of quickened living

She is a permanent swirling grave
And having broken free from all chains
And out of step with our brusque tempo
She collects a million tune fragments
From the coastlines of our kingdoms
Mingling them together
Into a new world symphony
As the ocean currents wash again and again
Her unimaginable sadness

© NeerSighted Productions, 2009



I consider this work very much Daniel’s vision and conception, rather than primarily being ‘my’ composition which happens to use his text. To me there is something refreshing in considering the author of the text to be the main ‘creator of the work,’ with the music being a necessary and (hopefully) enhancing addition by a ‘hired hand,’ perhaps making its own subtle commentaries but remaining primarily a vehicle for the librettist’s vision. This model is not uncommon outside contemporary classical music, both within its own history and in other current genres. Accordingly, here is Daniel Neer’s program note for the work:

In spring of 2009 I was approached by a well-known choral organization to perform three monologues from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to precede each corresponding movement of Tristia, a choral piece by Hector Berlioz inspired by literature’s most famous Danish tragic-hero. Daunted by the thought of performing these famous and very difficult speeches, I instead suggested writing three original monologues that invoke the introverted revelatory style of Hamlet’s character while utilizing modern global references such as the media, politics and the environment. ‘The Gyre’ is the second monologue of this effort, and juxtaposes the tragic death of Shakespeare’s character Ophelia with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an enormous gyre of floating plastic trash larger than Texas. As a by-product of the Pacific coastal “kingdoms” with large 21st-century industrial footprints, the gyre symbolizes the silenced and wasteful death of Ophelia as observed by the mighty residents of Elsinore Castle, each a master of manipulation and ego-driven sanctimony. The performer of this text, in a struggle with his own definition of reality and sanity, attempts to describe the scene of the gyre, its shameful origin and unfathomable impact to himself and the unwitting accomplices of mankind. My search for a collaborative project with composer Robinson McClellan resulted in sharing the text of ‘The Gyre’ with the thought that an ethereal harp accompaniment to a high baritone vocal part would be the best choice as a setting. The resulting music expertly enhances my intent to dramatize the tragic beauty and immense wonder of the gyre – a colossal repercussion of global progress and modernity.

Daniel Neer
September 2, 2010





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