A Concatenation of Birds, with Music by Lembit Beecher

I’ve been sorting through stacks of postcards, looking for ones that might suggest a starting point for a collage. One I kept coming back to contained an image of an illustrated manuscript folio entitled “The Concourse of the Birds.”

The folio depicts a scene from a poem by the 12th C Iranian poet, Farid al-Din ‘Attar:

The birds, which symbolize individual souls in search of the simurgh (a mystical bird representing ultimate spiritual unity), are assembled in an idyllic landscape to begin their pilgrimage under the leadership of a hoopoe (perched on a rock at center right). [citation]

The complete poem, “The Conference of the Birds, A Sufi Fable,” may be found online here, and a potted summary of the poem may be found here.

Recent collages are in the slideshow below.

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Listening List

Lembit Beecher’s “The Conference of the Birds

Entirely by coincidence, I learned today that Lembit Beecher’s new opera, Sky on Swings, is to be performed in Opera Philadelphia’s upcoming season. That, in turn, led me to his website to see if I could listen to a clip from the opera. While there, I was reminded he’d written a string ensemble piece called, “The Conference of the Birds” based on the Attar poem. Beecher wrote of the piece:

I initially thought about trying to turn the story into an opera – but I realized I was less interested in the narrative scope of the story than in the emotions and visceral energy of specific moments. . . . A string orchestra seemed perfect for creating solo lines that gathered into clouds of sounds. When I began talking to A Far Cry about writing a piece, I realized this would be a perfect project for the group. Having gotten to know the group, I wanted to write music for individual personalities: each member of the ensemble has his/her own part. These parts join each other in different combinations, but just as quickly split up again. The leadership of the music, and the relationship of individuals to the group is always changing. As I wrote I thought about the power of crowds, the motivating capability–both dangerous and inspiring–of leaders, and the distinct values of individuality and unity, but I also thought about the players of A Far Cry, and how much I admire the way they function as an ensemble, share leadership, and make music together.


Credits: Sources for the quotations may be found at the links in the text. The photographs, as always on the blog unless indicated otherwise, are mine.


14 thoughts on “A Concatenation of Birds, with Music by Lembit Beecher

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      sackerson: Enjoyed your reference to the Xenakis piece, and I certainly do hear an affinity in places, particularly in the first section.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark: The Dave Holland “Conference” is delectable, and really fun to listen to alongside Lembit’s piece, as well. And I always find it interesting to read your response on my collage attempts. I wondered whether the coffee cup collage might be a little too busy, but each element proved irresistible, so I just kept going. I never have any idea where I’m headed when I start out, anyway, which is a lot of the enjoyment. Working with the Islamic art elements of the “birds” piece was a pleasure–the hardest thing was making myself cut into those images at all.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          Mark: I went back through all my collages trying to see where my own eye traveled, and I was amused/bemused to discover that I had no idea! That will be interesting to contemplate as I continue on with cutting and pasting and sitting thinking about images, buttons, thread, colored paper, and all else, and how to use them.

  1. David N

    Some haunting sounds and poetic ideas in Lembit Beecher’s piece. For me the material is stretched too long – it would be excellent at max 15 mins. But then that’s true of bird-music-master Messiaen, whose Des Canyons aux Etoiles I just experienced again in Luzern. Was gripped throughout by the sounds, but the last two movements are three too many…

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Your observations about Lembit’s piece are, as always, smart, and of course I was amused by your reference across to bird-music-master Messiaen.

  2. Susan Scheid Post author

    David: When working with materials as beautiful as those images of Islamic art, the chief thing is not to mess them up (too much). I’m glad I seemed to have succeeded. BTW, if you should wander by and look again at the “coffee cup and newspaper” collage in the slide show, you’ll see Aino Sibelius’s head and hand holding a flower to her nose, as painted by brother Eero Järnefelt. You probably know this watercolor already, but in the event, you can see the whole of it here: https://www.ainola.fi/eng_ainola_kotina_aino_sibelius.php. I picked up that post card at Ainola, by the way. Also, to the left in the collage is a post card I picked up on our visit with you to Chelsea Physic Garden. So a lot of fond memories are packed into that collage.

    1. David N

      They’re all splendid. I love the surreal touch of a hedgehog in the otherwise Islamic confabulation of gate and jars… It would be interesting to track how the mind reads collages, what it sees first and how it makes sense of the whole. Your own personal history, what you’ve found significant, is woven in there too. But it’s actually better that the viewer makes his or her own story. Our talented Swiss-born goddaughters used to make collages: we had to hand over all art magazines and cards for their consumption.

      1. Susan Scheid Post author

        David: I so enjoy that you liked that hedgehog! I love your observations, also, and agree so much that it’s better that the viewer makes his or her own story. (I read something today by Agnes Martin that goes precisely to that point, as it happens.) I chuckled at your comment that your god-daughters required you to hand over art magazines and cards for their own collages. It’s certainly enjoyable to sit and contemplate bits of art and see how one might put them to (mis)use. I somehow suspect Joseph Cornell and Ray Johnson (and any of the other true artists of collage) are in any danger–nor are your goddaughters–of being overshadowed by my efforts, but there is a pleasure in the process, no matter the result.

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