pondA few years ago I got out Thoreau from Ives’ Concord Sonata and decided to discover it. As you all know I’m a sucker for pieces about the outdoors, plus there’s that flute solo which is quite delicious. For several reasons the project was never completed and the piece languished near the bottom of my stack of wannabes until a bit over a month ago, when I decided to have a go at it again.

Ives wrote out exactly the way he imagined the program section by section in essay form. His text is quite long and involved. Thoreau is meditating as he walks restlessly in the woods and gazes over the pond.  We move from day to evening during the piece. Occasionally Ives sounds rather like Winnie Ther Pooh.

Sometimes… an old Elm Tree may feel like humming a phrase from “Down in the Corn Field,” but usually very slowly; perhaps a quarter note goes down to 50, even lower, or thereabouts—as the weather van on the old Red Barn may direct.

It is all very idyllic on the surface—and to quote from Madeline L’Engle (whose character was actually discussing German theologians at the time) a perfect musical description of one of, “…the deepest-down-divingist, longest-staying-underest, most-with-mud-coming-uppest, thinkers who ever lived.”

Today, when I visited the piece there was no calm idyll to be found. Instead of restlessness I found hand wringing, instead of meditation, I found Job. Instead of consolation and transcendence I found more questions.

Today the piece was about keeping faith in the small joys of life in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Last night I saw a Facebook post from Ryan Innes, currently on The Voice, whose Mom and sisters have been longtime students of mine.

Amidst everything going on in my life right now that’s amazing, I’m indifferent to it when life and death and freedom and fear hang in the balance. My heart will hurt for a good while for the innocent and lovely in Boston. Love will conquer all I believe, but that also affirms that there IS a true battle against hate and it’s shuddering when it raises it’s vicious head.


When writing this post, I revisited the portion of Ives’ essay (from Prologue) which was included in my edition. What I found today was there all along. I just hadn’t recognized it.

No matter how sincere and confidential men are in trying to know or assuming that they do know each other’s mood and habits of thought, the net result leaves a feeling that all is left unsaid; for the reason of their incapacity to know each other…

Ives was talking about our ability to communicate through music, but today in those words, I find deeper significance.

Kirkpatrick plays Thoreau

Ives plays The Alcotts

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