Friday is upon us, so it’s time for Homegrown Radio! This week we continue with music by Eberle Umbach, & the composition for the week is a piece entitled “Moominmamma’s Painted Garden.” This is taken from the soundtrack we wrote for a stage adaptation of Tove Jansson’s wonderful novel, Moominpappa at Sea. If you’ve never read Jansson’s Moomin books, you’re missing a world of marvels & delights—I recommend them very highly.
Eberle sets the scene for the piece in her remarks today, so I’ll just say that this piece was composed & performed for her on piano, & recorded in her home music room/studio with a Shure KSM27 condensor mike. Now, let’s see what Eberle has to say!
So – the Moomin family has gone to live on an island in the middle of the ocean because Moominpapa felt a great need to take his family far away from comfort and familiarity so that he could protect them from danger like a responsible father. They left the green hollows and undulations of Moominvalley for the barren island and lived in a lighthouse. Moominmama misses her garden terribly, and loses everything she tries to grow on the island, no matter how many masses of seaweed she piles up for soil. With picnics and pancakes and loving understanding, she tries to help her family through the trials they face – her young son falling hopelessly in love with a pair of lovely and frolicsome seahorses, her husband lost in moominmathematics and his hopeless attempts to predict the actions of the sea – they are both falling into despair – and the daughterly sarcasm of Little My as she comments pitilessly on their ridiculous plights…
Finally Moominmama just can’t take it anymore. She decides to paint a garden inside the lighthouse, her own garden, from Moominvalley. As she paints she drifts farther and farther away from family life – and finally disappears into the painting, where she sits blissfully under her apple tree. The family becomes aware of her absence and feel an unaccustomed desperation – does she return? Do the seahorses continue to scorn the lovelorn Moomintroll? Does Little My push them all over the edge by bringing their foibles into her harsh light? And what about the mystery of the missing lighthouse keeper? Read Moominpapa at Sea by Tove Jansson and find out!
I loved writing this piece for a stage production of the book performed in McCall – the director felt a real and immediate connection with Moominmama’s conflicting desires to both nurture and create, and she made this moment in the story come alive for me. This piece is solo, but John and I did some of our finest improvisation together for this play, in my opinion - even though we were both going through some real difficulties at the time. We worked very quickly and intensely, often coming up with a piece and recording it in the same session, with no written notes at all. That was very unusual for me – I have no notes on this particular piece and no idea how I’d play it again – but this had a liberating effect. Making up music without trying to capture it for future performance had its own energy and rhythms. It was a time of serious transition for John and I musically as well as personally. I learn once again that it’s only in looking back that I can really understand that emotional difficulties simply accompany the kind of change that creative work requires - I’m always reminding myself to trust the process and try not to be afraid of change. It took a great deal of interior turmoil for Moominmama, too, to pick up a paintbrush and paint for the first time – but her departure into creative work was important for herself and, ultimately, for the living heart of her family life.
Enjoy the music—you can also listen to last week’s song, “Rootabaga Hoedown!”