Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Saturday Night"

"Broken Calla Lilies. Cathedral Altars. Magnolia Petals. Ermine Coats. Debris."

So starts "Saturday Night," the fateful journal entry by a teenage schizophrenic.

What appear as seemingly dis-jointed and un-related words all overlap and interconnect in the mind of a schizophrenic - as per the second line of the journal entry: "Weddings. Dances. Drinks. Bottle perfume."

The 1960's and 1970's were barbaric decades in the treatment of schizophrenia. Typical 'cutting-edge' treatment might include, and could be limited to, psycho-tropic and hallucinogenic drug therapy which would be 'monitored' through the patients journal entries. The decision to increase or decrease a particular dosage might depend on the lucidity of one's prose. Un-related textual elements might suggest a need for a heavier medicinal ingestion. The penning of clearer thought structures would decrease a particular dosage.

Besides the obvious, pity the poor creative soul who, perhaps prior to the onset of schizophrenia, crafted prosal images that could be deemed odd or cloudy. I am fairly sure that no 'baseline' of creativity was taken prior to institutionalization. How could it be?

Striking in it's brevity of singular thoughts separated by punctuated periods is the conceptual inter-connectivity of the words and ideas themselves. Taken at face value they are random images of everyday life. Taken together, they form a mental image of a world of sadness unified by a singular concept - 'Saturday Night.'

The text is dark, heavily punctuated and imagistic. "Disgust. Clear eyes. Uniform madness. Sorrow. Bedlam. Starry-dark snow."

The text is also finely crafted and motivic. This is not something we normally associate with the ramblings of a schizophrenic, but "Saturday Night" clearly has a motivic and thematic architecture to it. When the author comes back to the images from the first lines "Broken Calla Lilies ..." he now tempers and changes the line to read: "Broken Calla Lilies. We are like that. We who drown in white. Moss after the light. Saturday Night."

I was immediately drawn to this text. Aside from it's obvious power and imagery, there is an underlying romanticism and lyricism to the text. To me, the entire text is a call for help. There is the obvious please to a higher power: "God. Wherever you are. Cool. Lighted. By the other dreams." But there is an immediate, almost rational plea for help as well. "Disgust. Clear eyes. Uniform madness. Sorrow. Bedlam. Starry-dark snow." Could those words be references to the onset of an episode ("Disgust") and the need for clarity ("Clear eyes"). "Uniform madness" I think speaks for itself - uniformed medical professionals lead to "Sorrow," "Bedlam" and zoning out on medication "Starry-dark snow."

When I was writing the music for this wonderful text I wanted to have the music change moods and feel suddenly as if to suggest the same rapid changes that the schizophrenic text goes through. I also wanted to try and capture the romantic feel of the text, but I didn't want the listener to get swept away in the lyricism of a particular moment and forget the underlying problem - so I have a constant (and out of sync) clock ticking in the background. As the music swells around it - we lose the sound and almost forget this insistent reminder. As the music fades, we are reminded. (Perhaps this is, at least metaphorically, what all diseases feel like; you know it is always there but sometimes a moment or two of happiness blots it out and lets you forget about it - but only for a moment.)

I set the text in the tradition of "art song" and accompany the soprano - who is the journal writer - with clarinet and piano.

This fateful journal entry, "Saturday Night," is by Ross David Burke, a teenage schizophrenic who died shortly after this journal entry in the mid-1960's in an Australian mental ward.

As always, my heart-felt thanks to good friends Mary Ringstad (soprano) and Ralph Delmonico (clarinet). It is far more meaningful to write works for friends and colleagues whom you know and respect - highlighting their particular talents and strengths. Thanks to artist Eszter Gyory for the "Schizophrenia" painting.

Robert Ian Winstin

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