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all water has a perfect memory

(2007) clarinet, piano, string quartet

duration: 15 minutes

premiere: Voices of Change, September 16, 2007, Caruth Auditorium, SMU, Dallas.

audio from the premiere:


Perusal Score




Commissioned and Premiered by Voices of Change, Joe Illick, Artistic Director

2008 Kuhmo International Composition Competition for Chamber Music, 3rd Prize

Program Note

I began composing all water has a perfect memory at the MacDowell Colony as an emotional response to fellow “colonist” Natalia Almada’s documentary film of the same name that explores family memories of her two year old sister’s drowning. The title is drawn from an essay written by Toni Morrison, in which she speaks of the Mississippi River’s ability to conjure memories: “They straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places ... but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. ... All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”

The sea has long been a source of mystery and spirituality for me. Spending portions of summers in my youth at a remote Oregon beach exploring rocky protrusions, cliffs and caves accessible only at low tide instilled a sense of awe and respect for the elemental power of the ocean, well-spring of life. And one sensed how easily life can be lost. Our human fragility was made clear witnessing the deaths of two teenage boys at the coast, one thirty years ago and one in the summer of 2005. Recent times have of course held large-scale tragedies involving ocean waters - from the tsunami in Asia to breached dams in New Orleans. This composition is dedicated to those reclaimed by the sea.

Musically, the work presents a theme featuring clarinet, and six variations featuring in turn, viola, cello, piano, violin 1, tutti and violin 2. Extended transitions follow the viola and violin 1 variations. The climatic tutti variation contains seven ‘waves’, the proverbial ‘seventh wave’ being largest and leading to the apex of the work and then a return to the opening tempo for the concluding sixth variation.


IU Faculty - 11/07; Aspen Contemporary Ensemble - 7/08; Kuhmo Festival (Helsinki) - 7/09; Voices of Change (Dallas) - 5/16

Scrolling score and video from Voices of Change live performance May 8, 2016:

Score Samples

(basically the first page or two of each variation...):