Field Notes: Poet in Residence Gary Young

Gary YoungGary Young

Field Notes

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music 2016


On the streets leading to the auditorium, the jacarandas have stained the sidewalks blue. A late summer bloom of roses and lilies, hydrangeas and oleander has turned the city into a garden, riotous and alluring. Inside, the strings are warming up, and the brass, the winds, the percussion, a bouquet of sound that passes through us like a breeze that doesn’t recognize the boundary of our bodies.


Where is the music?
The music is in the air,

and the air has become music,
the world’s sweetest breath.


Music marks time—gathers, embraces, endures it. Thunder in the tympani, nectar in the run of a flute; arpeggios of wonder, terror, and desire. When the orchestra plays, the world flies at us on a fierce wind.


Abandoned to the music, you ask yourself—how long have my eyes been closed, how long since I’ve taken a breath?


The score has been laid down, a map to guide us through the mystifying territories of the heart. Musicians pick up the piece, play ten bars, or twelve, and stop. Play them again, and stop. They play one section and then another. This is how the piece exists—as potential, waiting only for a nod of the musicians, and a nod from the conductor, who strikes the air with her baton and brings it to life.


The marimba and cymbals merge with the bells of the campanile that mark the 5:00 hour. Outside, a siren wails with the oboes and piccolo before drifting away. Inside the hall and out, music swirls and makes its mark in space and time, and on the burnished air.


“When it’s quiet is when they need you, not when it’s loud.”

—Marin Alsop, to a young conductor.


She tells the conductors to commit, to transmit their energy to the musicians. What I think she means is, reach right through their hearts, find the music there, and pull it out! A shoulder shrugged, or a palm raised can coax more volume, depth, or tone from the orchestra. A finger bent—just so—can coax the soul to dance about on a quivering wind.


The Maestra guides her musicians along the treasure map of a score. No longer sitting, I float like a cloud buoyed by song. If I close my eyes while the orchestra plays, it concerns me less that I’ve left my body.

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