The Song of Sagwa Zibi

I have notes from composer Paul Kwiecinski about this lovely piece. I had asked him to arrange the work – originally for cello – to be performed by woodwinds.  We’ll be premiering this new arrangement at our first concert, February 8 at 2pm.

In the summer of 2013, while in South Bend for a visit, (I live in Stone Ridge, NY–Hudson River Valley/Catskill Mountain region) I ran into Kathleen [Petitjean] at the Farmer’s Market and she was telling me about Greening the Bend.  I asked how I could help the cause, and we somehow came up with the idea that I would write a piece of music.  Early in 2014 she called it in and asked me how we would go about it.  I sent her a few samples of things that I have done, and the GtB board liked this one that was a cello melody with a piano backing…

In our discussions, Kathleen and I came up with the idea that the piece would be about the river, and for me it became about the voice or song of the river.  Kathleen told me the Potawatomie call the river “Sagwa Zibi” (“Mystery River”, I believe), so: Song of Sagwa Zibi.  I grew up on Lincolnway East, right by the river, and as a boy I remember thinking that “St Joseph River” was not the river’s name; not sure where I got that notion, but to me, it didn’t fit.  When approaching the piece, I spent some time thinking about my relationship with the mis-named river, its rhythm, flow, and character…

For me the timeline of the song represents the river from its gathering of identity at its headwaters in Hillsdale County in Michigan, to the gathering of its power and personality, flowing through the many towns along the way, and finally surrendering its waters to the huge waterscape of Lake Michigan.  At the same time, I feel the river flowing through time, from its inception after the receding glaciers 10,000 or so years ago, through discovery by the Miami, Potawatomie, and other native people, through the first European explorers, and then towns rising up, becoming a workhorse of industry, until today, when it’s pretty much retired as a workhorse, and people like the Greening the Bend folks are working to get it back to health.

The original piece is all virtual instruments except for the piano and the cello.  Paul Duffy contributed the piano performance, and Anita Gendler (with whom I was in orchestra at Riley High School) did the cello performance at a friend’s studio in Los Angeles.

At the “premier” (at the GtB fundraiser in August), Kathleen had arranged for a couple to choreograph and perform a Viennese waltz to the piece.  I came out to South Bend to see it, and found the presentation and the reception by the audience very moving.

Paul Kwiecinski – Managing Partner, Face The Music

Paul is a philosopher and mad scientist that makes his living as a consultant, speaker,
and executive coach. He’s known for energizing and creative work with teams and large
groups. In 1999 Paul co-founded Face The Music, bringing music and songwriting into organizations as an experiential learning tool, and because it’s a helluva lot more fun than death by PowerPoint. Paul also sings, writes music, and plays bass in the FTM band, and is releasing his new album, Striking Distance, in March 2015.

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