In October of 2008, I had a rare week off. I grabbed my keyboard and laptop and drove to my cabin in the juniper forest a few miles south of the tiny town of Ash Fork, Arizona. It is "off the grid" so I had to bring battery power. It is so quiet up there, and the fall and spring are spectacular! I would record every morning till my batteries drained, then charge them at night when I turned on the generator. The experience changed my music forever.
My improvisations were long, between 10-20 minutes on average, but they tended to group themselves into sections. I decided to make the sections into "movements" so that the listening experience would make more sense. To emphasize this trait, I created poems where each line of the poem become a title for one of the movements. To play the entire "poem", you need to play the entire improvisation.
The collection, Ash Fork Verses, has been compiled into three sets, which have been released separately.
The first group of the third set discusses the sounds in our mountain home. Our two-story Ash Fork home is passive solar. Big windows face the rising sun, a Godsend in the winter. In the summer, however, in can get quite warm. To vent the heat, there are windows up near the peak of the roof. From the loft, I can reach one of them, and, with a long pole, I can open and close the other one. I cannot service that window, because it is 23 feet about the first floor and I don't have a ladder long enough. The problem is that with even a small breeze, the window howls mercilessly! So I have just learned to enjoy it. It mixes with the birds to make howling, chirping duets!
The story in the second group of pieces actually happened. My neighbor told me about the hermit who lived for decades in the 200 sq. ft. cabin that I now use for storage. A drawing of this cabin is on the cover. It had no insulation, no plumbing, off the grid - really rugged. But one day he talked to my neighbor about playing harmonica professionally in the 1930s. My neighbor asked if he still played, he said yes. He brought it out, and my neighbor said it was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever heard!
In that part of the country, you eventually learn that you must raise the hood of your car when you park. A warm, dark engine compartment is too tempting for the many species of mice and rats in residence. I learned the hard way when a rodent bit through a wire regulating my acceleration. It made for an interesting (and expensive) ride to the repair shop. By the time I recorded these last two improvisations, I had been recording straight for three days alone in the woods. I was, as they say, in the zone.
After four days of improvisation, all alone in my cabin in the woods, I was exhausted. This is the last improvisation I did, and it symbolizes the whole experience. I did all of my recording in my loft which has a magnificent view of Bill Williams Mountain. I watched that mountain each day for hours. My experience was wonderful, and it changed my music forever, but I was totally wasted. I was nearly in tears by the end. I did not record again for a full year afterward, when I gathered up my stuff and returned to do it all over again.
Glenn Stallcop is a composer, pianist, and a long-time double bassist with the Phoenix Symphony. He has recorded many
albums of piano improvisation over the last 20 years. He is a well-established composer with over 100 published works for orchestra, chamber music and vocal works, solo piano and double bass....more