The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute
2005, 15'30" for soprano voice and wind ensemble

To poems by Li Shangyin and W.S. Merwin


Soprano voice
Flute/Alto Flute
2 Oboes
2 B-flat Clarinets
2 B-flat Bass Clarinets 2 Bassoons
2 B-flat Soprano Saxophones 2 F Horns
2 B-flat Trumpets
Bass Trombone
Percussion Battery (4 players):
Crotales (bowed and struck), Vibraphone (bowed and struck), 2 cymbals, high hat, maracas, sleigh bells, cowbell,

Electric Piano (amplified) Double Bass (amplified)

Performance notes:

Set-up: Instruments are to be arrayed from left to right in the following order. This can be modified to conform with stage size, but left right assignments should be retained:
1st row: Oboes (L), Flutes (C), Clarinets (R)
2nd row: Sax1 (L), Bass Clarinets (L), Bassoons (R), Sax 2 (R)
3rd row: Trpt 1 (L), Trbs (L), Horns (C), Euphonium/Tuba (R), Trpt 2 (R) 4th row: Percussion L, Piano/Bass (C), Percussion R

Voice: Both texts alternate, and are to be sung in their original language, i.e., the Li in Mandarin, the Merwin in English. A somewhat literal word-by-word translation is provided underneath the pinyin for the convenience of the performer. Dynamics are at the discretion of the vocalist, though it is understood that the vocal part should always be prominent. If possible, no amplification should be used for the voice.

The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute was commissioned for the MIT Wind Ensemble, Fred Harris, director, by Richard Nordlof, MIT Class of 1955, in loving memory of his wife Jody. It was premiered by soprano Anne Harley and MITWE at Kresge Auditorium, Cambridge, MA, on March 11 2005.

The Nomad Flute

By W.S. Merwin (b. 1927)

You that sang to me once sing to me now let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading

I can think farther than that but I forget do you hear me

do you still hear me does your air
remember you
oh breath of morning night song morning song I have with me

all that I do not know I have lost none of it

but I know better now
than to ask you
where you learned that music where any of it came from once there were lions in China

I will listen until the flute stops and the light is old again

-WS Merwin

The Nomad Flute was originally published in the New Yorker magazine, November 22, 2004. It is used with kind permission of the magazine and the author.