composer & pianist

San Francisco Songs

San Francisco Songs is the result of an extraordinary year-and-a-half-long collaboration with poet Jane Barnes. The Songs were conceived in the summer of 1998, when I asked Jane if she would be interested in writing the words for a large-scale orchestral song cycle about San Francisco. Rather than a “tourist” piece all about pretty scenery and cable cars, I was interested in the psychology of the landscape, how the city might be seen, and felt, through the eyes of a young gay man. Jane immediately rose to the challenge and we began uncovering a spiritual and emotional map of the city. In fog we discovered paralyzing fear, safety and sensuality; on a bridge we found hopelessness (as well as a means of getting to the other side); in an earthquake we saw erotic love. As a whole cycle, the songs chart the difficult journey from innocence to experience, from pain to joy and back to pain, from desperation to acceptance.

Writing this piece with Jane was a collaboration in the truest, best sense of the word. We worked very closely together on the concept and structure of the piece. Jane and I pored over her drafts together, and she was open to my suggestions and criticisms. Jane was a frequent visitor to my composing process as well, listening to the music at various stages of completion and offering ideas and encouragement. The texts are pared-down and sometimes almost speech-like. Jane would often write a spectacular line or stanza — or even an entire poem — which I found I could not set to music because it was “too poetic.” In my composing process, too, I found I had to discard some ideas which were “too musical.” Eventually we came upon the notion of “not-poems” and “not-music”– a middle ground where neither the text nor the music need be “pure” in and of themselves, but give and take from each other. The result here, I believe, is a work of art where music and word are inseparable. In the process of creating these songs, I believe my music has acquired an element of Jane’s poetry, and her poetry has acquired a bit of my music.

© 2001 Gordon Beeferman. All rights reserved