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Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Miraculous dances of trees (verse, music & image)

Tree Community (photo by the author)
Tree Community (photo by the author)

I marvel at the infinite movements of the trees around me, their rhythms, synchronicity and grace. I spend hours of wonder trying to identify patterns, seemingly infinite, that are spread before my eyes. The experience is both soothing and exhilarating. The wind’s breath moves the trees, sometimes gently, sometimes with greater force as if the gales are a reminder of nature’s inherent force. Like water, the winds can be life giving or potentially life taking. And yet it is hard to ignore the stately grace of trees and what they provide to insure quality of life. This is especially true in our generally sunny and often exceedingly hot climate, when shade is life and health. This is the gift trees bring to us.

So on the occasion of Tu BiShevat I honor the trees with my verse, music and images. I also contemplate the tragedy around me in an expanding neighborhoods where trees and regularly felled to make way for high-rises and other building projects, both commercial and residential. I do this in the hope that all of us can take a few minutes to reflect on what trees provide toward the quality of our lives.

Tree Tunnel (photo by the author)

The following verses (written especially for this blog) contain my personal reflections about tree dances. The poems’ structures were also inspired by the  meters of tree movements. The musical examples, several with video, draw their inspiration from the infinite combinations of tree branch movements, the polyphony of groups, with branches’ ebb and flow creating multitudinous pendulums that are natural, pulsing, hypnotizing and cycling. They ultimately demonstrate the infinite possibilities of nature’s grace.

What also strikes me about trees is their incredible diversity, from leaf to leaf, branch to branch, while they are all one cooperative community together. They provide shade, beauty, fresh air, resting places for birds in flight and nourishment.  And their color ? What feelings does tree green stimulate in us?  What are its psychological properties? Its health benefits?  To my mind, a tree is a microcosm of all that is good.   It is also sad how frequently they are cut down.  Recent tradition is that the “new year” of trees is also a call for environmentalism, something that is also emphasized in the following verses.

Poem #1: Tree-d

I can’t stop my thinking
of trees,
their ebb,
their flow-their song.

I can’t stop my weeping
at towers so bold
born only
yester-year where
trees romped and played.

They danced funny gigs
like light airy dreams
all graced and all glowing
it was what it seemed.

So I’ll live in my dreams
in a large swath of green
giving life, far as my eyes can see to see.

Trees Together (photo by the author)

Poem #2: Trees Long Gone

Awakened by cries
as thick as the night
they say there are beasts
that roam as they fight.

But closing my eyes
I imagine the trees
that stand all erect
while dancing the breeze.

It’s sad but so true:
the new towers are grey,
but puff go the towers
they stand without sway.

Hoorah for the rays,
let them in to resound,
like cloaks, they sing (they’re green all around).

Green Dream Window, (music and video by the author), “Quintet No. 2 (Portals)”, 3rd Movement, performed by the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet, premiere, Festival Chaillol, France.

Poem #3: Shade

When blares of our sun
fry plains and brains too,
I run for the hills
to a nearby tree
to drink in the shade.
Like a new-born babe
I cuddle in cool,
quenched in still waters
by the glade’s own lagoon.
For others that pass,
the scathed sun’s a-splay
it is (can you guess?)
the devil, he brays.

Lone Tree under the Sun (photo by the author)

Poem #4: Me and the Tree (A Children’s Poem)

 

Peekaboo (drawing by the author)

A tree says to me,
“please sit beside me,
I have so much to tell”!

I closed my eyes and
pinched my skin
should I let this strange
greenish fellow
in?

I thought it a dream
but opened my eyes
and he still was there!

The winds started blowing
as billows will do,
long, strong and loud,
filling trees’ stately boughs.

I watched the tree dance,
he was twirling and curling
with his leaves all about
when suddenly a voice roared
from his hat, he cried
“It’s Tu BiShvat…”

“A time to say ‘please’
to all your friend trees
‘without you we’d be sunned
or go without fun.'”

I stood all erect
feeling strange and abstruse,
when then out of nowhere
found strength in my boot.

“Thank you sir tree
for seeing me here,
for all that you do
in all seasons all year,
the warmth and the cool
the sad and the true
without you, tree-sir
we’d surely be blue.”

Tree Tower (photo by the author)

Poem #5: Tree Trunks Do Travel

Old Tree (photo by the author)

Sunset (Solo), composed and performed by the author, using asymmetrical pendulum-like phrases, much as our trees do!  (for soprano saxophone and vibraphone)

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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