The distance of the moon (2015)

Duration: 7:00 minutes

Instrumentation: solo piano

Premiere: Texas State International Piano Festival (June 1-4, 2015) by finalists Inyoung Kim, Nathan Ryland, Soyeon An, Sung-Soo Cho, Hyeinn Jun, and Jeremy Hassell

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     This piece was inspired by the first story in Italo Calvino’s collection Cosmicomics. Each story in Cosmicomics takes as its starting point a scientific fact and then proceeds to spin out a whimsical tale with bizarre characters. Though each story begins from such a strange place, and though they are often very funny, they speak clearly to universal themes of loss, loneliness, and yearning. Somehow, the very absurdity of each story’s premise makes these underlying truths more vivid.

     The Distance of the Moon takes as its starting point the fact that the moon used to be closer to the Earth. What follows is a strange story about a group of people who would row a boat out to the point where the moon was closest, prop up a ladder, and then climb up onto the moon to collect the moon’s milk. My piece does not attempt to tell the story in any linear fashion, but rather takes a few striking images, excerpted below, as inspiration for the music.

…On those nights the water was very calm, so silvery it looked like mercury, and the fish in it, violet-colored, unable to resist the Moon's attraction, rose to the surface, all of them, and so did the octopuses and the saffron medusas. There was always a flight of tiny creatures -- little crabs, squid, and even some weeds, light and filmy, and coral plants -- that broke from the sea and ended up on the Moon, hanging down from that lime-white ceiling, or else they stayed in midair, a phosphorescent swarm we had to drive off, waving banana leaves at them…

…I would feel ladder and boat drifting away from below me, and the motion of the Moon would tear me from the Earth's attraction. Yes, the Moon was so strong that she pulled you up; you realized this the moment you passed from one to the other: you had to swing up abruptly, with a kind of somersault, grabbing the scales, throwing your legs over your head, until your feet were on the Moon's surface. Seen from the Earth, you looked as if you were hanging there with your head down, but for you, it was the normal position, and the only odd thing was that when you raised your eyes you saw the sea above you, glistening, with the boat and the others upside down, hanging like a bunch of grapes from the vine…

…Vhd Vhd picked up the harp from the bottom of the boat and handed it to his wife. She was obliged to take it and play a few notes…I took to singing in a low voice that sad song that goes: "Every shiny fish is floating, floating; and every dark fish is at the bottom, at the bottom of the sea. . ." and all the others, except my cousin, echoed my words…