Frog's Eye

2002, 13' for chamber orchestra


2 flutes
English horn
2 clarinets in b-flat
2 bassoons
2 French horns in F
2 trumpets in b-flat
2 percussionists
         claves, 2 temple blocks, bass drum, low tom
         triangle, ‘chinese-type’ suspended cymbal, 2 bongos
strings (4-4-2-2-2)

Program Notes by the composer

 “I’m quite convinced in some ways that the camera has given us a somewhat blinkered look. We’re looking at the world through a hole - we’re getting a bit of tunnel vision.  And so I’m trying to widen it, trying to put in more than just looking ahead.  And when you do, the viewer is pulled in more.  So I get quite excited by that.  I spent rather a long time experimenting with optics, and actually now my intention is to throw them away and use my two eyes and what I think of the world and look at it, look at the real world.  I don’t watch television much, I look at the garden, that’s the real world I think, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
            -David Hockney on NPR’s Weekend Edition, December 9, 2001

As a relative newcomer to New England (a mere 12 years), I still allow myself the luxury of being overwhelmed by local nature, specifically summer’s rampant fecundity. Swimming across lakes and ponds, the view is as with a camera obscura, one’s small humanity dwarfed by water and sky, ringed by innumerable trees and leaves.  It’s hard to feel important at such moments, but also impossible not to feel wondrously alive.  As it turns out, this is close to the frog’s-eye view: perched on rocks in shallow water, 99 percent immersed, only their huge panoptic eyes above the water line.  Perfect stillness, perfect contemplation, patience, serenity, all that good Zen stuff.  Keeping cool while maintaining absolute vigilance.  They are in fact hard at work, staring intently, waiting for a moment of action and violence, for insects, for food.  The view is incidental as far as they’re concerned.

Meanwhile, back among the humans, we live our directed lives, cutting across the sensory present, intersecting with it, ignoring it, misapprehending, misinterpreting. This is undoubtedly our own biological necessity.  We strive for a certain type of awareness, for multilayered perception, and occasionally we get there, but we seem to be built for subjective narrative.   We’ve got to catch the fly to survive.  I personally don’t have a problem with this, but – like Mr. Hockney – I’m trying to look at my surroundings while still advancing the story line.

Frog’s Eye was commissioned by Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston.