Weeks 39-43: On the Birth of Locke Elliot LaVoy, a New Piece, and an Exciting Month to Come

Uncle Stretchy-Face

Uncle Stretchy-Face

          Yet another month has slipped by without my weekly blog entries, but in my defence there has been a tremendous amount going on. On the 9th of November, the LaVoy clan added a new member to its ranks and I became an uncle for the first time. Locke Elliot LaVoy, the first-born child of my brother Lucas and his wife Emily, was born that morning in Texas, weighing in at 8 lbs. 13 oz. It seems a little bit odd to be passing off the mantle of youngest LaVoy boy, a title I've held for 24 years, just as odd as thinking that I am now an uncle. When I think of how I perceived my own uncles and step-uncles growing up, they always seemed to be very cool but also just a little bit strange. Perhaps it was simply my young mind trying to process the similarities between their facial characteristics and those of my parents. But then again, am I going to be the eccentric composer uncle with a stretchy face?

          At any rate, as the delivery date approached I started to feel the need to welcome Locke into the world in my own way. Naturally my own way will always involve music of some kind, and it just so happened that I had recently been commissioned by the Chapel Choir of King's College, Aberdeen to compose a Christmas carol for our upcoming tour to Budapest, Hungary. After searching for a couple of weeks I finally found a text that I felt was not only perfect for the Christmas season but for Lucas, Emily, and Locke as well. “Ave, maris stella,” translated as “Hail, Star of the Sea,” is a beautiful Latin poem primarily about Mary and the birth of Christ.

Waves on Lake Superior

Waves on Lake Superior

          Emily was on my mind most of all in the two weeks that I spent composing the piece. It's difficult to describe the bond that forms between Lake Superior and a person who grew up on her shores. Many describe the Lake as “Mother Superior” or “Mother Lake,” an indescribable influence and source of comfort at the best and most difficult of times. In my mind, Emily became the “Star of the Sea,” the mother mentioned in the poem, except that I consider her to be more of the “Star of Superior.” And so the texture that dominates the piece is one of waves, in this case the waves of Lake Superior that Lucas, Emily, and our whole family know and love.

          The final verse of the Latin speaks of praise being given to the Father, and while this refers of course to the Christian God, in my own personal context this section will always be about my brother Lucas as a new father. I chose to reuse two phrases in this climactic final verse; “Ave maris stella,” the personification of Emily, sung by soloists in high tessituras, and “Deus Patri,” the personification of Lucas, sung repeatedly by the basses. These two musical lines combine with other material, creating a wash of sound that surrounds the melody which holds the words “tribus honor unus,” or “honor, to the three equally.” The combination of two pre-existing and distinct musical ideas gives rise to a third sound, a new sound. A mere shadow, of course, of what it is for two people to create a new life, but it's the best way that I know how to honor the three of them.

          Ave, maris stella will receive its world premier in Budapest, Hungary in early December, the last of five pieces of mine to be premiered in just under a month. Yesterday I gave the world premiers of two piano preludes at my Cathedral at Noon recital at St. Andrew's Cathedral; an unfinished prelude dedicated to my grandma Esther, who passed away before I could complete the work, and Mnemosyne, dedicated to my grandma Florence who is currently battling Alzheimer's Disease. Next Thursday is the world premier Ave, verum corpus, a choral-orchestral collaboration between myself and composer John Frederick Hudson, at St. Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen. I will then conduct the University of Aberdeen Chamber Choir in the first performance of my new setting of Adam lay ybounden in St. Marlybone Church, London, also in early December.

          What a month, and what a blessing it is to be here in Aberdeen and abroad to experience these amazing things. On top of all of this, we've been invited to return to Culzean Castle to sing Christmas carols in the days before I return home for winter break. I had to change my flight to be included in this, but I feel it is going to be an incredible time, especially with Sarah by my side this time around. Her 24th birthday is on Wednesday, and I'm definitely planning a fun weekend!

Haggis Stuffed Peppers!

Haggis Stuffed Peppers!

          On a final side note, I am officially being spoiled with amazing food by the people that surround me. Last night Sarah made baked bell peppers stuffed with haggis, black pudding, feta cheese, and couscous, an incredible dish that I'm sure we will repeat often. John and his partner Brock also treated several of us to one of their world-class six course dining experiences last week- a tremendous evening of food and wine that they titled “The Invasion: Fall Dinner with 'The Yanks.'”

          There's always too much to cover in a short blog entry. Life is wonderful, this month is bound to be amazing, and I can't wait to come home and meet my nephew Locke.

Until next time,

Thomas LaVoy

Culture Shock of the week(s): "Duking it out" is not a common phrase in the UK. When using the phrase in this country it apparently calls to mind two Dukes being overly polite to one another....

For example, whilst "fighting" over a flat they both want to rent:
"Oh Reginald, I couldn't possibly take this flat!"
"No, no Nigel, I must insist!"
"Nigel, I won't take no for an answer!"
"Oh Reginald, you are too kind!"

And so on. Not that Dukes would rent flats. 

Music of the Week(s): Stan Rogers' Northwest Passage

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