In placid hours 2014
3 mvt | 12 min
a cappella

single print license


$15.75 Add to cart

Premiered by


commissoned by


About this Piece

When the men of Clerestory first approached me in 2011 with the commission for These oceans vast, Justin Montigne introduced me to Jim Meehan, a former member of the Clerestory board, who was to be my host during my stay in San Francisco. Jim and I became fast friends during my first residency with Clerestory, and on each of my subsequent trips to the Bay Area, Jim opened his beautiful home to me, so that I could relax and write in the quiet of his ‘‘ærie’’ on Rincon Hill.

My most recent trip to the Bay Area was for a seven-week residency with Kitka, the acclaimed women’s ensemble in Oakland. For this extended trip — during which I rehearsed, performed, and recorded with the ensemble — Jim opened his home to me again, and was a generous host again, exceeding any of my expectations. I am so grateful to Jim for providing me with this ‘‘home away from home,’’ and it is out of deep gratitude for Jim’s generosity that the idea for this triptych — In placid hours — was born.

Unbeknownst to Jim, I began writing these pieces in May, at the beginning of my residency with Kitka. During my first week in San Francisco, Jim introduced me to a number puzzle in the New York Times called ken-ken. Like Jim, I love a good puzzle, but I was only familiar with suduko — another kind of number puzzle that is a bit simpler. After Jim showed me how to solve an easier 5×5 version of the puzzle (by filling in the numbers 1 to 5 in each row and column of the square), he left the more difficult 7×7 square for me to solve by myself. I remember spending a couple of hours on a sleepy Monday morning solving the puzzle, and the solution results in a random grid of the numbers 1 to 7, in seven columns and seven rows.

The best part about this particular ken-ken puzzle size is the number 7. In the solution, each digit from 1 to 7 occurs only once in each row and each column. These digits correspond easily to the seven pitches of the diatonic scale, and do so with the least possible repetition as well as the most possible randomness. After I completed this puzzle and (proudly) showed my solution to Jim, he joked that I should ‘‘create a piece’’ using this grid of numbers as diatonic pitches. Little did Jim know how simple this would be to accomplish. Reading in rows from the top left to the lower right, I collected adjacent numbers into distinct groups of four, and created 24 possible four-note harmonies from this grid. These are the harmonies that I employed, in various forms, throughout the movements of this triptych.

Text Credit

Herman Melville

Sample Text

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt — a wind to freeze;
Sad patience — joyous energies;
Humility — yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity — reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel — Art.