On Day 40 of Syrinx Journey, I am reflecting on how my interpretation and experience of the Debussy have evolved. The question I am asked most often is whether I will get bored of playing the piece every day for a whole year. So far, I can tell you I am not bored. On the contrary, I am surprised that Syrinx never comes out the same way twice; that there is always something new. It could be a subtle difference in the dynamic or rhythmic contours or in the nuance and tone color. On most days, I do not try to make changes in the interpretation. Sometimes, I have an idea which I try out, usually in a certain place where I want to try a different pacing or phrasing. More often, I take a moment of introspection before playing the piece, and my mood and the setting influence my Syrinx.
This rendition, part of my series at the University of Pennsylvania, has a very unusual sonic effect. Bells were ringing on campus and I decided to play with them rather than wait. In fact, there is a trio of elements in this recording – my flute, the bells, and the wind. I was reminded of Debussy’s pieces that refer to bells – the song Les cloches (The Bells) with text by Paul Bourget, which I arranged in my collection Nuits d’Étoiles: 8 Early Songs Arranged for Flute and Piano (Theodore Presser, 2002) and his piano prelude La cathédrale engloutie. I also thought of the chiming gongs of the Javanese gamelan which so influenced him at the World’s Fair in 1889. I wrote my MA thesis in history at U. Pennsylvania on the influence of Asian music on Debussy, so this is a topic I have studied with great interest.
The wind, for me, is also connected to Debussy, in that he invoked this element in the movement of La Mer entitled Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea) and in two pieces from the piano Préludes, Book I: Le vent dans la plaine (The Wind on the Plain) and Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind Has Seen).
Debussy brought the sounds of the world around him into his music, and heard the music in those sounds – bells and wind, water and birds. Through Syrinx Journey, I am gaining a new and more profound perspective on the music of Debussy, and the music around me.