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Spoken Poetry with Trombone and Piano

Philip Swanson

J.d. Scrimgeour, Speaker
Confluence (scrimgeour & Swanson)



"The poetry of Ogunquit deals with personal and familial issues, set in a seaside town in southern Maine. The speaker makes assorted observations, profound and banal, mixed with doses of anti-war sentiment. The piano score is largely atmospheric, attractive, and lyrical, calculated to illustrate the spoken word without overshadowing it. There is a vaguely American tinge to the music, though it doesn’t call to mind any specific composer.

For Langston and Atlantic Blues are (not surprisingly) accompanied with blues-tinged scores, the first on piano and second on trombone. The blues is of the celebratory rather than mournful variety. Blue Light, based on a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa from a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, is also bluesy, but decidedly more dissonant and angular. The text that informs Pavane (poem by Alan Feldman) includes a band arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, hence the rather daring move to put a solo trombone intoning the famous tune rather than the expected piano. The effect is rather disembodied and haunting, a good fit for the text.

The most noted poet represented on the disc is Rainer Maria Rilke, and his moving Duino Elegies is the spoken portion of Mourning for Linos. I’m not sure if this single instance of the separation of text and music happens out of respect for the acclaimed poet, but it does seems a propos, as if the somber keyboard strains set apart from the poem underline the theme of 'separateness' of the text. Richard Price justifiably earns the praise of the two artists... overall the recorded sound is clean and even. It may be more likely to find support among consumers of poetry than new music, but neither group is likely to be disappointed by the project."
Michael Cameron, Fanfare Magazine [September/October 2010]
We are both artists, and we are both teachers, and Confluence originated from a teaching idea. We wanted to bring our respective students, in writing and music, together and expose them to collaboration across the disciplines. In our conversations, we decided that we should try the process ourselves first, and so, without realizing the ambitions of the project, we set out to integrate J.D.’s long poem, “Ogunquit” and Phil’s music. Much of the artistic process involved collaborative decisions about how the music and words should fit together—what the character of the music should be, when the music should be present, when not. We didn’t quite know what we had until we tried the piece out on a few friends and family. Their stunned faces confirmed what we had suspected; we had created something rich and moving. All the poems on this CD, whether elegiac or celebratory, refer to music and acknowledge its power to move listeners. They explore the relation between words and sound, an exploration that is at the heart of Confluence.

J.D. Scrimgeour is the author of a collection of poetry, The Last Miles (2005) and two books of creative nonfiction, Spin Moves (2000) and Themes For English B: A Professor’s Education In and Out of Class (2006), which won the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Award for Creative Nonfiction. His poetry has appeared in such magazines as Poetry, Ploughshares, Colorado Review, River Styx, Tar River Poetry, Connecticut Review, and Diner, and it has won awards from the National Society of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. His nonfiction has appeared in such magazines as The Boston Globe Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Creative Nonfiction. Scrimgeour has long had an interest in integrating writing with other art forms, and he has collaborated on and performed interdisciplinary works with photographer Kim Mimnaugh and choreographer Caitlin Corbett. Scrimgeour is a professor of English at Salem State College, where he serves as Coordinator of Creative Writing. He holds a BA and MA in English from Columbia University, and an MFA in poetry and PhD in English from Indiana University.

Philip Swanson maintains a distinguished career as a trombonist, pianist, organist, composer, conductor and teacher. As a trombonist, he has performed with the Miami Philharmonic, where he served as principal for five years, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Opera Boston, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and numerous other orchestras and ensembles. He is founder of the brass chamber ensemble Morgenmusik, which features trumpet virtuoso and Eastman professor James Thompson, and performs regularly with several jazz groups including Chamber Jazz Trio and Bob Nieske’s Big Wolf Project. Mr. Swanson appears frequently in concert as a solo pianist, performing his own works as well as his improvisations on jazz standards. He also has collaborated with poet J.D. Scrimgeour, forming the group Confluence which combines Scrimgeour’s poetry with his music. Swanson has composed numerous works for instrumental and vocal ensembles, and can be heard on a wide range of recordings, including two solo piano albums of original works, an organ and trombone CD with organist Barbara Bruns, several small group jazz albums, and performances with larger ensembles, including the Boston Pops under John Williams. Currently an Associate Professor of Music at Salem State College, Philip Swanson teaches music theory, composition, piano and trombone. Since 1991, he has been Music Director of the First Congregational Church of Rockport, Massachusetts, where he serves as organist and choir director. He received a Doctor of Musical Arts from New England Conservatory, a Master of Music from the Eastman School, and completed his undergraduate work at Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Miami.
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From J.D. Scrimgeour’s The Last Miles

For Langston
From J.D. Scrimgeour’s The Last Miles

Atlantic Blues
From J.D. Scrimgeour’s The Last Miles

Blue Light Lounge Sutra
for the Performance Poets
at the Harold Park Hotel

From Yusef Komunyakaa’s collection Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems

From Alan Feldman’s collection
A Sail To Great Island

Mourning for Linos
Words from David Young’s translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies / Music from Philip Swanson’s Lengthening Shadows: Songs for Solo Piano

Love Song
From Edward Snow’s translation of
Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Love Song”

MSR Classics
Birds in Poetry and Song GARY WOOD

Music for Trombone and Organ


Songs for Solo Piano


Solo Piano Reflections