‘I Leap Through the Sky With Stars’(1994) is based on a Zen poem by the Buddhist poet, Dogen (1200-1253), who was the founder of the Sōtō branch of Zen Buddhism in Japan.
Four and fifty years
I’ve hung the sky with stars.
Now I leap through-
It was during my postgraduate degree that I discovered I had a knack for specialising in the performance of contemporary ‘classical’ music. Performing contemporary music presents challenges that are not always present in older and more traditional works, but I try to meet with these challenges in ways that are innovative, creative, as true as possible to the composer’s aim, and with as much integrity and imagination as I can.
I have performed Louie’s I leap through the sky with stars three times: twice whilst at university, and once for a piano competition in 2007 (I won the contemporary sectional with this piece).
There are two performances on You Tube that I’ll attach for immediate listening, best to get a recording (there are many out there), if you can. If you can also read music, get a copy of the score; it’s definitely worth looking at.
Preparing any piece for performance requires a sympathetic knowledge of the basic structure of the piece, some knowledge of the historical context and a certain technical expertise and command- older pieces require an historical performative style that fairly represents the composer’s wishes. Some contemporary music is challenging to perform because the musical style is unfamiliar, or can demand the use of ‘extended technique’ (for example, playing within the body of the piano for instance, or on the strings; unusual playing techniques, using the keyboard as a percussive instrument, etc.) and, as in the case of Louie’s work, creating a musical structure that uses large-scale gestures that produce a ‘dislocation of time’. More on this below.
In most music, one’s sense of time is based on a constant, metered rhythm, which helps to foster a comforting sense of rhythmic expectation within the boundaries of the work. I leap through the sky with stars disengages this ‘comfort zone’ by utilizing gestures that deliberately thwart any sense of rhythmic expectation and cohesion.
There are various ways that a composer can ‘dislocate time’, but three gestures that Louie concentrates on are: senza misura (to play without meter, or without reliance on a beat), hemiola (see detailed description, below) and the use of multiple time signatures.
A hemiola is a metrical pattern in which two bars in simple triple time (3/2 or 3/4 for example) are articulated as if they were three bars in simple duple time (2/2 or 2/4).
An excerpt from the Mozart piano sonata in F K332 showing a hemiola in measures 64 and 65 can be found here.
The effect can clearly be seen in the bottom staff, played by the left hand: the accented beats are those with two notes; hearing this passage one gets a sensation of "1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2".
Alexina Louie has created an ethereal, lyrical work. The first time I worked on this piece I found it difficult to memorize because I had never committed to memory a work whose structure was not based on a consistent rhythmic pulse (I am not a natural improviser, either). Once the piece was memorized, however, I have to admit I enjoyed the ability to help facilitate the sense of ‘timelessness’ that I think Ms Louie intended.
I leap through the sky with stars was commissioned as the imposed piece for the Canadian Music Competitions 1991.