Eternally Starlit Sandstone

“Eternally Starlit Sandstone” W. Zeitler [Piano]

“Eternally Starlit Sandstone” is a piece which Don Dudley commissioned me to write as a present for his wife Earleen’s 60th birthday. The title refers to a particularly magical trip they took by train through the desert – a mood which the piece tries to reflect.

In previous Music Boxes I’ve talked about the ancient area of study known as ’gematria’: that in ancient times there wasn’t a separate set of symbols for numbers (we now use ’0-9’), that they used their alphabet both for numbers and for text, and that consequently all words had both a numerical value and a linguistic semantic meaning — depending on context and how one chose to consider a word. (For example, the gematria value of the Greek word for ’Jesus’ is 888 – an interesting contrast to the infamous ’number of the Beast’ in the Book of Revelation which is 666).

And even though we now have a separate character set for numbers, it is still easy enough to use an approach virtually identical to that of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews to express modern English words as numbers. And because common musical practice has seven notes in our musical scale, expressing these numerical values in base 7 (instead of the customary base 10) results in a straightforward way of representing words as musical gestures (specifically as pitch sequences).

Using this approach, the name ‘Earleen Dudley’ can be expressed as a musical gesture, and it is upon this gesture that the entire piece is based — ranging from straightforward statements of the ‘theme’ to using it in more structural and abstract ways. A bald statement of the musical gematria for ‘Earleen’ introduces the piece, and the piece is subsequently riddled with various applications of it. Nary a bar doesn’t express ‘Earleen Dudley’ somehow.

Note: you are in no way expected to spot all the ways ‘Earleen Dudley’ is used. Nor is that the intent. Just know that there is a substantial hidden order behind the face-value musical experience of the piece, whose purpose is to express ‘Earleen Dudley’ in as many musical dimensions as I could manage.

Sidebar: In Western Music our default assumption is that music (and Art in general) is all about expressing the COMPOSER’s inner life. (As if Lady Gaga’s inner life is worthy of my attention.) Isn’t this view profoundly egocentric and self-absorbed? Can’t Music — and indeed the Christian Commitment — be about serving a purpose greater than a our ego and obsession with ME and MINE? In this case a husband’s love and devotion to his wife? Can’t Art serve higher purposes than culturally celebrated narcissism?