Mostly the music haunts me. I still recall sitting out on my back porch under the sun umbrella one summer day trying to stitch the heartbreak together. “What can get at this tragic mood?” I kept asking myself, conducting experiments up and down the 12-string’s fingerboard. New chords I’d never played slowly revealed the sculpture-in-the-stone moment, the “ah ha!” release, when I finally said, “Wow. That’s it. That is beautiful. That has the dignity, the elemental loneliness and the magnificence I need.”
I was searching for a leitmotif for Beowulf the Viking hero. Having composed them for Odysseus in The Odyssey, David in David and Goliath, young Percival the knight in The Hidden Grail and other of my long-form bardic tales, musically it was a familiar creative process, but not emotionally.
You can get a flavor of Beowulf’s theme at 3:27 in this live recording of the tale.
I’ll be performing Beowulf: The Only One twice in the next weeks, and will be playing Beowulf’s theme and others as I do my best to enact him, King Hrothgar, Grendel the Beast and his vengeful monster mother. I still remember how when I recorded this tale live, the music worked. Two women in the audience felt the way I felt. Right there, in the middle of all those people, so loudly I heard it from the stage, they burst into tears.
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