The Skylark Sings

For soprano and orchestra – Duration: c 31:00

 “In an uninterrupted flow of seven songs, Kechley set to music a skillful collage of Japanese haikus, interwoven with Persian, Chinese and American Indian texts.  A large orchestra, reinforced by varied and highly effective percussion instruments wrapped the soprano’s beautifully inflected discourse into a brightly shimmering cloak of sound.....Beauty, ineffable and ephemeral, was at the core of the words and of the music, and instantly achieved the ever-recurring miracle of transforming thoughts of death and loss and mourning into a rich, highly rewarding aesthetic experience.  At the end of the piece, the chorus, perched high on the back balcony of the Ozawa Hall, intoned a moving Native American text:  Do not stand at my grave and weep,  I am not there I do not sleep.” --Simon Wainrib, Berkshire Record.  Following its premiere at Tanglewood, Andrew Pincus of the Berkshire Eagle wrote “The tone poem offers striking images:  Japanese scales and instrumental effects, insects buzzing in the strings, a strong rhythmic   punch for magic mushrooms’ effect, a leaf fluttering downward in a harp passage, a chorale in the brasses to suggest ‘the giant tortoise  of  paradise.’ And over all hovers the poignant voice, dwelling not on death but on life."


Full program  notes: scroll down for notes and click on each song title to listen.



The Skylark Sings is a continuous cycle of seven songs for soprano and orchestra composed in memory of Peter Kechley, the composer’s brother who died in 1994. Each song includes texts that reflect the many interests and accomplishments of Peter Kechley including those of singer, poet, acupuncturist, homeopathic doctor, a black belt in Aikido and a degree in Russian comparative literature. All texts share the common features of lyricism and imagery.  These qualities and their underlying meanings result in "musical painting" by the orchestra, often quite literal. Many of the structural elements may not be immediately heard, but contribute greatly to the work’s larger form  and character.  The most significant of these involves the use of a kind of "musical haiku" structure.  The absolute form of haiku in Japanese consists of 3 phrases of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively for  a total of 17.    Throughout the work all the settings involving haiku reflect this structure in some way. The driving harp rhythm at the opening of Skylarks is constructed of such phrases created as cross rhythms to the basic meter by the use of accents in the vibraphone and marimba.  In Fireflies  the second song, the entire length of each setting is 17 measures and the interjections of the various "firefly" sounds are spaced by rests of 5-7-5 values resulting in what seems a  random pattern.  A similar structure is used in Starlight Night.  The opening and closing harp passages of Scarecrows are each 17 notes long.



I.  Skylarks  is based upon six Japanese haiku about skylarks followed by a quatrain by Jalal-ud-din-Rumi telling of the "secrets" of the "breeze at dawn".  As with all haiku there is a seasonal reference, in this case, skylarks are associated with Spring.   II. Fireflies consists of 2 haiku about fireflies, a clear reference to Summer.  The orchestral texture creates a setting in which a field of fireflies and other insects can be "heard" and imagined even including the “reflections in the water.”  III.Starlight Night  combines a haiku with several more texts by Rumi.  Jalal-ud-din-Rumi who lived during the Thirteenth Century is considered one of Persia's greatest mystical poets.  His work often contains strong images in addition to philosophical and religious meanings.  The common image here is night, the stars and the ocean.  The haiku in this case may refer to Autumn.  The end of this song creates a transition to the much more rhythmic IV. Magic Mushrooms sets three Chinese poems all of which were inscribed on paintings depicting mushroom hunting in the mountains.  V. Scarecrows  consists of three haiku which make a clear reference to Autumn.  The first, called the Death Verse (jisei) was customarily a haiku written by a person on his death bed.  VI. The Giant Tortoise  is a single Chinese poem which refers to a number of mythical places such as Mysterious Mountain, the Hanging Gardens and the giant tortoise, "a mythical ocean creature on whose huge back the three mountain-islands of paradise were said to be supported."   VII. Quiet Birds takes its title from a line in the second text, a Native American prayer.  The prayer is preceded by the final haiku of the work that describes a beautiful, but desolate Winter scene.


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Recorded on compact disc, The Skylark Sings: Music by David Kechley, Liscio 97892 ( and Innova Recordings

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