Usonian Games by Margi Griebling-Haigh

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If “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” – a pithy quote that has been attributed to various people (David Byrne, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, even Thelonius Monk) whose inborn wit makes it seem like they might have said something like that – then what is writing music about architecture like? Composer Margi Griebling-Haigh describes her process and thoughts on the piece:


It turns out that both art forms share many of the same requirements: form, function, design, style… and therefore, writing music about architecture is no great stretch after all.

 

In the summer of 2020 I was approached by a delightful group of Auburn University music faculty members to compose a trio for flute, oboe, and bassoon, with an “Alabama focus” as stipulated by the Alabama State Council for the Arts.  We landed on the idea of a piece of music which would in some way pay homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s only Alabama creation, the Rosenbaum House of Florence, Alabama.

During the creation of this trio (and as I was unable to travel due to the worldwide pandemic) I looked at many, many images of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations. I concentrated first and foremost on the Rosenbaum House, an outstanding example of the famous architect’s “Usonian” style, – practical, cost-effective, and seamlessly blending into natural surroundings.

The long lines of horizontal brickwork, punctuated severely by repetitive strong vertical wood framing supporting the flat, cantilevered roof-line; the large, flat panels of glass windows reflecting all around; the slivers of glass lights illuminating the ceilings above the galleries; the cascading brick steps invitingly descending the expansive lawn; the decorative built-in bookshelves and quirky-but-utilitarian furniture all provided inspiration for Usonian Games.

The “game” in the first movement, Verticalities, is one of contrasts: sharp repetitive chords interrupted by a pair of smooth, undulating horizontal motifs. Each of these elements becomes more energetic, playful, or agitated as the movement progresses. Nature intervenes in the form of bird calls and trills before the stark chords end the movement.

The middle movement, Perpendicularities, is something of a passacaglia built around a constant pedal tone.  Mirrored intervals constantly expand outward or converge in on each other in patterns. This is the movement with the greatest “ceiling height,” represented by the widest ranges of the three woodwinds.

The final movement, Horizontalities, is the most playful of the three as it explores patterns and angles. An organic, free-form melody which is presented (loosely) upside down and backwards over a static accompaniment, creates a diversion and a great degree of whimsicality. Each of the three movements of Usonian Games borrows from the others to create a cohesive whole.

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meet the composer...

The music of Margi Griebling-Haigh has been characterized as haunting, charismatic, yearning, wistful, lyrical, colorful, and insoucient! She has been Composer-in-Residence at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival since 2011.  Her catalogue includes songs, chamber music, orchestral works, opera, and dramatic works.

 

Trained as an oboist, Ms. Griebling-Haigh studied with John Mack, the (late) Principal Oboist of the Cleveland Orchestra, and earned her BM from the Eastman School of Music and her MM from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 2020 Rhapsody for Violin and Piano was featured on “Performance Today” in performance by Cleveland Orchestra Concertmaster Peter Otto with pianist Randall Fusco, and her dramatic work, The White Trout was released on YouTube to outstanding reviews. In recent years concert presentations of scenes from her opera The Higgler were given by the Cleveland Opera Theater, and Alegrías was choreographed for the Verb Ballets collaboration with Cleveland Chamber Symphony and the Cleveland Composers Guild.

 

Her latest commissions have come from the Alabama Council for the Arts, International Society of Bassists, and Kent/Blossom Music Festival. Her music is published by Jeanné Inc.; Trevco Inc., and Musicalligraphics, and can be heard on 17 CD recordings. Please visit https://www.musicalligraphics.com

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