About Weaving the World

By Pamela J. Marshall
Music for SATB chorus, oboe, piano, 2 percussion

Text adapted from the essay "Weaving the World" by Janisse Ray, published in Audubon Magazine Jan/Feb 2002, and used with her kind permission.

Program Notes

Weaving the World, music by Pamela J. Marshall and words by Janisse Ray, is a paean to nature and a mourning for the suffering caused by war. Its words deliver wonderful images of spiders stitching the world together with their webs, creating a sanctuary safe for contemplation. Weaving the World paints images of being in the heart of a southern swamp (Okeefenokee, one of Ms. Ray's favorite locations), a peaceful and safe refuge, where "every night the spiders weave the world back together... Each new-made web shines gossamer in the new sun."

Kingfishers, deer, and tiny cricket frogs fill this natural world that, however safe, is still haunted by the knowledge of war occurring somewhere out there: "Somewhere/Someone is planning to kill/Someone has been killed". The threat of war leads us to consider what kind of death is a "good" death and what kind of death to dread. Finally, there is hope that the forces that draw us together are stronger than the forces that pull us apart. It is a spiritual text, but not of a particular religion.

The composer writes: "When I found Ms. Ray's essay in my copy of Audubon Magazine, I knew right away that this was the text I had been searching for. It was not a poem yet, but it was the perfect expression of natural beauty and emotion that I wanted to translate into music. I restructured Ms. Ray's phrases into a poem and sent it to her for approval. I was thrilled when I got her enthusiastic endorsement of the project.

"With the support of the commissioning consortium (First Parish Unitarian of Concord, MA; Unity Unitarian of St. Paul, MN; Assabet Valley Mastersingers of Northboro, MA), I set about creating the music. It so happened that most of the music was written in India while I accompanied my husband on a business trip.

"I take great care in shaping the melodic lines to reflect the natural rhythms of the words. For the accompanying ensemble, I selected instruments that evoked outdoor sounds—the pastoral oboe, the clicks, taps and thuds of percussion, woven together with piano. A low drumbeat and thudding piano notes remind us of distant war and its anguish. In the music, I have looked for a balance between dread and hope, with music that is joyful, spirited, at times prayerful, and reflects the lively soundscape of a swamp."

Author Biography

Janisse Ray grew up in a junkyard along U.S. Highway 1. She is the author of Wild Card Quilt and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which won the American Book Award, as well as the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, Southeastern Booksellers Association Award for Nonfiction, and the Southern Environmental Law Center Award. A naturalist, environmental activist, and winner of the 1996 Merriam Frontier Award, she has also published her work in Wild Earth, Orion, Florida Naturalist, and Georgia Wildlife and has been a nature commentator for Georgia Public Radio. She has moved to Vermont, but still spends much of her time in Georgia.

Composer Biography

Pamela J. Marshall studied horn and composition at Eastman and Yale and has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. She has written for chamber ensembles, synthesizers, mandolin, and orchestra, including commissions from organist Carson Cooman, Enigmatica (a mandolin ensemble), the Axiom Duo, Trio Arundel, mandolinist Neil Gladd, and DanceArt. In 2005, she wrote a horn octet "wild horn whose voice the woodland fills" for Esprit de Cor of Lexington and a new winter carol titled "Windshine". The Spindrift Commissioning Guild supported the composition of "Meditations" for organist Carson Cooman. The Guild allows members of the community to join with others to sponsor a project and support the creation of new work, with more projects coming in 2006.

She has been a composer-member of Just In Time Composers and Players, presenting concerts in and around Boston. Her "Through the Mist" for orchestra was played in New York at the Women's Philharmonic Career symposium in 1999. The Concord Orchestra premiered a new arrangement "Traditional Christmas" in 2004. Another Christmas arrangement "Three Appalachian Carols" has been played in Massachusetts, Milwaukee, Montana, and New Orleans. Her mandolin music is recorded on Plucked String and Enigmatica disks and chamber music on the Clique Track label. Her company, Spindrift Music, publishes her music (on the Web at www.spindrift.com).

Ms. Marshall plays horn in the Concord Orchestra and sits on their board. She has played in many ensembles in and around her home in Lexington, including the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra, orchestras for several choruses, Concord Hill Musicians, and Esprit de Cor, a group of 16 or more horn players that has premiered her music several times. Ms. Marshall grew up in Northboro and went to Algonquin RHS before Mr. Eaton came to teach there.