Bonsai Journal (2007)

20 minutes
High Soprano, Piano
Commissioned by Emily Spear


I. Fanfare
II. Nocturne
III. Interlude No. 1
IV. Chorale: Meditation
V. March: Burlesque
VI. Interlude No. 2
VII. Caprice
VIII. Aria
IX. Impromptu
X. Pastorale


While experiencing Mohammed’s musical compositions, I felt such astonishment stunningly beautiful sound and visual aesthetic were truly overhwhelming.

As someone dedicated to the study of music notation, I would like to comment especially on Mohammed’s masterful genius in communicating with innovative notational resolutions and his use of improvisatory techniques to achieve such remarkable beauty that is difficult to dismiss from one’s mind and heart after the experience.

I would like to mention in particular, his Bonsai Journal’s, Impromptu, (Tempo libero e flessibile) where the notation is so inventive and intelligent as to allow the voice and piano to fabricate a sublime essence that moves with ease and gentle beauty that is not seen or heard in new music today with such sensitivity and style. This young distinguished composer, with works transcendent of formula and standard goes beyond to break boundaries to achieve new and precious music to be enjoyed that is timeless in nature.

— Theresa Sauer, Musicologist, Author of Notations 21 Anthology of Innovative Notation (Mark Batty Publisher/Thames & Hudson Internationally)

At the moment of writing Bonsai Journal I was interested in experimenting with and with multiple moods and tones. I was left alone to tend my partner’s extensive possibilities of encountering objects and experiences from multiple perspectives bonsai collection for a week and decided to write a few poems each day responding to individual trees. The poems were written quickly and casually as a set of variations on a theme.

I wanted to avoid straight description, but rather find a set of oblique “takes” on my relationship with the trees. I passed the poems on to Mohammed Fairouz very soon after writing them, before I had reflected long or begun any extensive editing. Several things struck me when I first heard this piece.

First, Fairouz has tapped into and fulfilled the rough hewn, open energies of the poems and found a way to complement and fulfill their tones and preoccupations; but more importantly, he has found a path between them, and done some inventive and virtuosic bridge building. His settings of the sections draw out the various poetic angles of approach, unearthing subtexts, underlining complex ironies, drawing up allusions to emotional gestures shared by poetry and music.

I was won immediately by the opening Fanfare, with its burst of Emersonian excess balanced against an astringency and abruptness that suggests the otherness and recalcitrance of the trees, their resistance to being known and sung. With his grasp of the whole range of western music and its forms, Fairouz draws on post-modern and eclectic approaches to either re-inscribe the text in a surrounding aura, and saturate the language in other sensory dimensions, as he does in the full sensual array of the Nocturne, or highlight the aesthetic ironies of the encounter with trees that are hardly natural beings at all, but already domesticated, shaped artistic objects, as he does in the March: Burlesque.

I was deeply moved by the way the Aria extracts a hidden vein of love and loss in the poems in ways I was not necessarily aware of at the time of writing. Yet, with hindsight, the encounter with the bonsais couldn’t help but suggest an absent lover, and the beloved’s aspect of otherness.

Finally, I found my own preoccupation with the way time is wound and coded within the trees, the way each tree seems to exist within its own time signature, mysteriously embodied in the gorgeous stretching and suspension of movement built in to the final Pastorale.

I imagine that it is very rare, considering their possessiveness, for poets to feel that a poetic work can achieve its ultimate fulfillment in a musical setting, but with Bonsai Journal I must give Mohammed credit for an interpretation both true and clairvoyant.

— Judson Evans, poet, chair of liberal arts Boston Conservatory


Bonsai Journal

I. Fanfare

Each has a different way of waiting,
resists personification making you guess
the address of each profile.

II. Nocturne

In the dark, lilies like horns from an old Victrola
The spool of waxed string left to stake them, the cylinder that locked
to a copper trough with its crude, built-in stylus. But there’s no music.
When I lean back on the steps, the summer stars are clustered
around the silhouette of a maple.
The stars smell like a dust of cinnamon.

III. Interlude No. 1

This one the color of a storm that never gets closer the way we realize
when we fly through them cloud patterns seen from earth are incomprehensible hourglass inversions.

IV. Chorale: Meditation

The birds land like dinosaurs in their branches.
They hold to a different measure. As a child climbing a tree
was not a form of play. It was work and mystery and prayer.
You first learned the dispossession, unearthing disclaimers
of the branches. Unaccomodated by the way your weight was
not assumed nor your perception.
You were discommoded. A rude reorganization of the limbs.

V. March: Burlesque

With this one I feel the embarrassment of greetings, difficult gestures
in a foreign tongue. The same non-recognition. Doubled.
A failure of face time.

VI. Interlude No. 2

Lights out. The trees stay intricate and closed inside their force field.
They don’t sleep, devising scenes of Caravaggian bondage.

VII. Caprice

Green candle with multiple wicks the architect
building an island from candle wax
must draw down ravens into a bell.

VIII. Aria

Remove the arteries and veins
lay down capillaries in slow increments, until the heart is listless in its nest.
The hand turned Nile of its pulse is between your fingers, its clutch of roots
another, darker hand.

IX. Impromptu

They put a bundling board between them courting, sparking, stewing, Grannie
and Grampy Pine. They bound themselves in Ace bandage and afgans, hot compresses,
hot toddies, poultices and salve, a capsule containing coiled information from 4-H, Oddfellows, almanacs and schedules of model trains.

X. Pastorale

As if an elaborate top were spun that slowing, didn’t topple out of phase, but kept composure, retrograde spin of some odd
moon in the saddle of other gravity, until its drone tuned
into a backward duration.

I can see its castle now, its moat
of motionlessness from here, its torque of sap and sawdust, and the needles
in their files, the library of needles.

— Judson Evans

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