Appendage (1993)

for soprano, clarinet in Bb, tenor sax, violin, viola, cello, piano

Now available on Albany Records: Appendage and Other Stories (TROY 1170) featuring

Lauren Flanigan, soprano
Stephen Williamson, clarinet
Taimur Sullivan, tenor saxophone
Arnaud Sussmann, violin
Richard O’Neill, viola
Clancy Newman, cello
Melvin Chen, piano
Ransom Wilson, conductor

More about the recording

“I can imagine Cathy Berberian leaping on a piece like this, were she still alive. I can imagine Sylvia Plath writing a text like this . . . again, were she still alive. The obsessive frustration of incompleteness is rendered wryly amusing, moving, and nightmarish in Appendage, which is both a tour de force for the composer and for the performers, soprano Flanigan in particular. This is a terrific work. In fact, it is so good it made me weep. And Dillon, with his vivid imagination and his ear for vocal and instrumental color, seems to be a terrific composer.” - Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine

I. Appendage   play excerpt     (MP3 format)
II. Tes yeux
III. Warm eyes
IV. Appendage
V. Recognition
VI. Last lullabye   play excerpt     (MP3 format)

About Appendage, the composer writes:

"In late 1992, I became so discouraged with slow progress on a piece I was sketching that I crumpled up my notes, tossed them down to the end of the piano, and began working on something else.

In the ensuing weeks, I found I couldn’t get the aborted sketch out of my head. I would frequently glance down to the end of the piano, where it lay in a disturbing heap, casting silent accusations of abandonment in my direction. Over time, it came to seem more and more like a living thing, and I found myself wondering how it would feel to be alive, yet unfinished -- uncertain of ones identity, origin or purpose.

That experience led me to a new piece, Appendage, about just such an unfinished creature, striving to complete itself, to make itself lovely."

A song cycle in six consecutive sections, Appendage traces a fantastical journey from incoherence to a cautious self-awareness. The text, by the composer, follows:

1. Appendage
na
na
I have an a
na
I have an a
na
I have an a
pendage
na
na
I have an a
pendage
I have an a
pendage
I have an appendage
right here
where my
arm
should be
like a fractured limb
mangled
like a withered arm
twisted
and pointing in the glass
na
(I couldn’t find you)
twisted
and reaching for the light
na
(for the longest)
twisted
and clutching at the surf
can you see? don’t touch
(When you ceased
I couldn’t find you for the longest time)
no no no no no no no no no ah no no
(warm arms)
no no no
(light hands)
no no no
wait!
it’s not mangled
not twisted
more like
unfinished
it needs
a sculptor
a composer
to make it
lovely
I think it could be
lovely
(Sleep, sleep my precious one)
but now it’s ugly
Can I say that?
it’s ugly
Is that allowed?
ugly
it looks ugly
and it hurts
it hurts
like an open sore
it hurts
with a steady throb
it hurts
like remembered shame
it hurts
deep inside
with a pain I cannot bear
like a wicked gash through the ribs
can you see? right here
where my heart
should be
I ignore it
and I sit by the window
waiting to be finished
to be molded
to be lovely.


II. Tes yeux
lovely
(tes yeux lumineaux
tes cheveux mistérieux)
Lost! It’s lost!
I left it right here
where my hand
should be
by the mirror
I left it
by the mirror
and now it’s gone
and now it’s vanished
and now it’s somewhere else
(appendage!)
Les yeux mystérieux,
les cheveux lumineux,
(When you ceased)
la bourdonnement dans ton sommeil.
la mamelle mielleuse,
le minois malheureux,
(I couldn’t find you)
Les cheveux lumineux,
les yeux mystériueux
le minois malheureux,
la mamelle mielleuse,
la bourdonnement dans ton sommeil.
I’m reminded
I’m reminded
I’m remin -


III. Warm eyes
Warm eyes, cool arms,
light words whispered in my ear.
Soft lips, hard thighs,
dark hands ruffling through my hair.
Cool eyes, warm arms,
light wings brushing at desire.
(tes bras nus autour de mon cou)
(Right here
like a withered arm,
like a fractured limb,
can you see?
can I say that?
Is that allowed?
It looks...
like an open sore
with a steady throb
like remembered shame
deep inside I cannot bear
like a wicked gash
right here


Where did it go?


Warm eyes, cool arms,
light words whispered in my ear.
Soft lips, hard thighs,
dark hands ruffling through my hair.
Sharp strokes, dull lids,
ripped wings thrashing on the floor.
Hard eyes, soft arms,
loose fists pounding on the shore.
Strange sobs, stark cries,
locked loins slamming on the door.
malatawamalavlawamadarastwamadarlawamaswatastwamaprashaswamachamawa
my shattered one!
na na
my little one, my lovely one,
my dearest one, my darling one,
my sweetest one, my precious one,
my helpless one,


IV. Appendage
Fair skin, cruel heart.
Lost! she’s lost!
I left her by the mirror
and now she’s gone.
The danger is
Self-recognition.
The danger is
Self-absorption.
The first thing I saw
was a pair of startled eyes
(self-recognition)
The next thing I saw
was the tremor in the glass
when I loosened my ears
and I began to sing
I saw beyond the eyes
beyond the glass
(self-absorption)
I saw a stream,
a river,
twisted and reaching for the light,
I saw a fish,
a salmon,
mangled and clutching at the surf,
I saw his wings,
disfigured,
and thrashing on the shore.
(tes bras nus autour du cou)
I closed my eyes and saw him
soaring upstream
a vision of powerful strokes
and sparkling leaps
his graceful arcs piercing through the foam
and when I loosened my ears
and I began to sing
he turned, pressing deep
to greet my lips
in solid, certain sleep
(sleep, my darling one)


V. Recognition
but when I opened my eyes
there I was
struggling upstream
on a longer journey
I’m no longer fit for
withered arms
mangled legs
swollen lungs
dragging me down
gasping
exhausted
descending
in my mem’ry
each powerful stroke
each majestic leap
each lovely arch
wrenched in my breast
like an open sore
ripped at my mind
like a wicked gash
tore at my limbs
like remembered shame.


And as she sinks, she wonders:
what am I doing?
and she wonders:
why am I struggling?
I should be waiting
to be finished
to be molded
to be lovely.
When you ceased
(what is she doing?)
I couldn’t find you
for the longest time
(why is she straining?)
now each peeléd crease reveals
your violent eyes,
your creviced cheeks,
your pinioned arms,
twisted and pointing in the glass,
mangled and reaching for the light,
bludgeoned and clutching at the surf,
your slender wings.
And as she sinks, she wonders:
are there others like this?
are there others like me?
And she wonders:
is it worse to be alone,
or to know that there are others,
it’s a disease,
an epidemic,
a lonely legion turning,
pressing deep,
reaching out
with shattered arms.


VI. Last lullabye
Wrap your fingers ‘round my thumb,
my little one, my lovely one,
I will listen while you sleep,
my dearest one, my darling one,
the silence in the stream won’t rise to wake you,
the struggling you have seen won’t come to shake you
from your dreams, your magic dreams, magic and fragile dreams.

Wrap your dreams around my thumb,
my sweetest one, my precious one,
I will listen while you sing,
my charming one, my helpless one,
fold your wings within my span,
my graceful one, my sparkling one,
as long as you hold tight,
I will be here, beside you dear.

If I grow old before you wake,
don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid,
just take my place beside the empty crib
and sing the words I whisper in your heart,
my lovely one, my precious one, my only one.

copyright ©1993 by Lawrence Dillon



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