Music Notes: “Petals”

Apr 30, 2021 | Beacon, News, Top News

Among the many things I enjoy at East Shore Unitarian Church is the beautiful campus. We are nestled in the middle of a sweet little forest, with a wooded walkway leading up from the lower parking lot. During a scant two-week period in April, the cherry trees lining the Sanctuary, Administration  and Education Buildings all bloom at once, in an elegant profusion of pale pink. Seeking out cherry blossoms at their peak is a popular pastime in Japan, where cherry trees are prized for their brief, fragrant blooming. In Japanese the term for cherry blossom is sakura, or 桜. Part of the symbol for this word means “to bloom,” which can also mean to smile or laugh. Hanami, or 花見 is the Japanese term for “flower-viewing.” This term almost always refers to seeking out cherry blossoms at the peak of their bloom.

I’m grateful one of the gifts we get to enjoy at East Shore is our very own sakura festival. This year, the trees gave forth an exuberant display. Walking from the parking lot to the Sanctuary for our weekly Sunday service rehearsal was like walking through an enchanted forest. Pink petals fell gently like snow as a gentle breeze blew the boughs to-and-fro. I resolved to take video of this display to share with the members and staff at East Shore.

Once I got home I began to edit the footage, and wanted to find music that would suit the gentle feel of the petals moving in the breeze, as well as the sweet sadness that comes from knowing how brief a period this is. I attempted four different musical approaches, but none of them felt right. I came to my keyboard several times over the next two days with a new bit of inspiration, but each turned out to be not quite right. At one point I was playing something unrelated, and my left hand slipped and played a chord I hadn’t intended to play. This happy accident ended up opening a door to the little piano piece I composed which I titled, simply, “Petals.” I hear bits of Debussy in it, as well as Ravel, and perhaps a tablespoon of Brahms. I love it when a piece of music introduces itself to me – especially after a “mistake” and says, “Hello. I’ve been here all along.” For those who are curious, the “mistake” chord is at the :45 mark. Maybe there really aren’t any mistakes after all. Maybe it’s all simply a matter of context, and acceptance, and grace.

Here’s to next year’s hanami. May we all enjoy this beauty together again.

by Eric Lane Barnes, Director of Music