My Grandfather's Kalimba (1996)
realized on Korg 01W synthesizer, E-Mu Ultra Proteus sound module, and Yamaha TX 802 tone generator
When my grandfather passed away, I came to realize that while I knew many things about him, I hadn't really known him at all. He was a quiet man in a loud household, always present but never, somehow, a presence. Emotions he held deep inside, at least around the visiting grandchildren, while around him raged torrents. He was a collector of many things; sword-canes, movie props, turquoise, all kinds of odds and ends. When he discovered that I was interested in collecting coins, he would always give me some medal that he had picked up somewhere. This was his display of love for me--not hugs and kisses, but a medal pressed quietly in my hand during my visits--and in the ignorance and arrogance of youth, I sometimes refused his gifts, because medals are not coins, and I was a coin collector, not a medal collector. Having moved away for graduate school, I did not attend his funeral. His collections passed into the hands of his other children and grandchildren while I read Forte and Schenker, believing my priorities in the proper place, and not yet having learned what is truly important in life. My brother, also a musician, inherited my grandfather's African thumb piano. Years later, upon seeing my own collection of musical instruments, he offered the kalimba to me. This delicate and subtle instrument is what remains of my grandfather for me, a gift of love handed from grandfather to grandson and brother to brother.
My Grandfather's Kalimba was premiered on August 11, 1996, at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. The piece won a Sonic Circuits prize and was published on Sonic Circuits X in 2010.