Distance (2017) — Shawn Okpebholo (1981)
Duo for Marimba and Cello
From the Composer
“In the dark months following the terrible losses, I found myself needing to turn to the language of poetry, if only to preserve the phrase Roger spoke after his diagnosis, that he was going into the treatment to experience “the complete sufficiency of grace.” This was poet Miho Nonaka’s response to her elegant poem, Distance, an elegy for Roger Lundin, and the inspiration for this piece. Roger was a Christ-follower, a husband, a father, a scholar, a teacher, a friend—my friend. Our friendship grew out of Roger’s humility: I, as a junior faculty member, for example, receiving encouragement, soaking up his wisdom, talking about shared interests, like music, the Negro spiritual, specifically.
Distance is a duo for cello and marimba. I intentionally chose that instrumentation to reflect Roger’s demeanor. The cello and marimba are considered soft instruments and both have warm and rich timbres. Even in a casual chat with Roger, one would experience his soft-spoken voice: a tone that was warm; words that were full of depth; insights that were rich in meaning. In this work, I aimed to musically weave the many ideas expressed in Nonaka’s poem: the body, devotion, act of musical worship, joy (imagery of the flies), space, breath, and words (the Word). I included two musical quotations: the spiritual, Prepare Me One Body, and one of the great hymns of the church, For All the Saints (Ralph Vaughan William’s tune, sine nomine). Not only do these songs capture poignant themes of Nonaka’s poem, the songs were special to Roger.
This piece was composed in memory of Roger Lundin and is dedicated to Sue Lundin.
(Roger Lundin 1949-2015)
Snow started overnight, unexpectedly, in abundance
making the drive to church beautiful, nearly
impossible. And it would continue through the service—
high windows like a slender book opened
in the middle, pages growing whiter, emptier
save for a few bones of the tree
on the margin.
already bare, severe space
of reformed architecture: a lone vessel
breaking its path through the hush
of human breath to the center, the unknown.
That summer, a poem had started us discussing
flies, a sudden legion of them in my kitchen.
It amused you to no end to picture me
swatting at them with dark passion,
llying my victories each day until
my husband finally located their colony.
What flies, invisible, interpose between words,
splinter the syntax of eulogy?
Uncertain, stumbling, we
turn to music, hymns, prayers. As if the soul
is a kind of distance, measured around and still beyond
circumference. We ache to feel exactly
what our fragile faith tells us we can’t
Inside your head was a library
of unfinished books. An entire forest of them gone
before the first snow. Your voice haunts me, tender,
elegiac at the core, calling to the dead, your
scattered tribe, a maze of jagged isles, high winds
through the fog of the Baltic Sea.
There was a time I thought that words, when
true, would crystallize in their arrival.
I believed that.
It is such a long journey, Sue said
at a late night grocery store. We were pushing carts full
of essentials when we ran into each other
under the florescent light.
I had no words for her. We are still
standing in that spacious church
surrounded by silent crystals. Dusk
gathers, the ceiling grows higher, and the whole
building is an instrument full of air, aching to
house the complete sufficiency of grace.