It seems to me that ‘unremembered’ is not quite the same as ‘forgotten’. A forgotten memory is lost forever; unremembered events remain in the locked mental storage cupboard, waiting to be rediscovered when mistress Serendipity stumbles upon the key again.

In 2011, the vocal ensemble, Roomful of Teeth, commissioned the American composer, Sarah Kirkland Snider, to write some songs for them. She, in turn, asked an old college friend, the poet/writer Nathaniel Bellows, if he would like to write some poetry as a source for her own ideas. For Bellows, writing lyrics for songs presented a welcome new challenge. Those unborn poems needed to be more rhythmic and concise than he was used to, and the unfamiliar discipline unlocked the memory cupboard for him.

Initially, Bellows wrote five new poems about events from his childhood growing up in rural Massachusetts, and accompanied them with sketches and drawings. Snider fulfilled her commission, basing her work on those five pieces. But the wellspring of creativity didn’t stop there. By the time they had finished, Snider and Bellows had 13 songs, which they collected together to form the Unremembered album.

Unremembered is a layered, ghostly chorus of innocence and ruin, the embrace and celebration of the unknown, and the hard-won wisdom that comes from the passing of time.

Nathaniel Bellows

Sarah Kirkland Snider writes modern classical music, mainly for choral ensembles and chamber orchestras. In this context, ‘modern’ means that she is prepared to bend the established rules of harmony, and she is not afraid to include electronic instruments to spice up the sounds of conventional string and wind orchestras. In a sense, her work falls between the classical and the contemporary, between the traditional and the avant-garde, spanning the serious and the lighter side of music making.

Here are two examples, both taken from the Unremembered album:

These pieces are a challenge to the Crotchety listening panel. They take us far from our folk/pop/rock roots, leading us into unfamiliar soundscapes. On the music map, Sarah Kirkland Snider is surrounded by artists we do not recognise. Bang on a Can appears further out, near the right-hand edge; Brad Mehldau and Björk just scrape in at opposite corners of the page. But those peripheral artists have little in common with Unremembered, and the more central names are entirely missing from our library.

The panel’s verdict, therefore, is somewhat tentative. The overall effect is a little too close to opera for my taste. The fluffy Crotchety ears struggle to make out the words, which is frustrating, and the words I can decipher don’t seem particularly poetic to me. But the tones and textures are intriguing, there is drama in the orchestration, and there is a delicious sweetness in the vocal harmonies.

So, yes, I have enjoyed this trip into the hinterland of modern classical music but, I suspect, this album is destined to remain in the internal storage racks, unremembered until fate shines a light into the dusty corners once again. And, who knows when that might be?

3 thoughts on “Unremembered

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