Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund



Sea-Wash - (2013)    

Carl Sandburg

for medium voice and piano

in memory of Professor Roy Travis


The sea-wash never ends.
The sea-wash repeats, repeats.
Only old songs? Is that all the sea knows?
          Only the old strong songs?
          Is that all?
The sea-wash repeats, repeats.

2 pages, circa 2' 50"

Carl Sandburg


The text is taken from Sandburg's collection of poems, Smoke and Steel (1920). For other settings of his texts, click here.


The notion of a long arch repeating came to mind, from the work of Roy Travis. He suggested, "There is no reason why... any other conceivable combination of tones appropriate to the composer’s artistic purpose cannot become the tonic sonority of a tonal music. It is only necessary that the combination be capable of definition in terms of structure which is susceptible to vital and expressive prolongation."  In "Towards a New Concept of Tonality?," Journal of Music Theory 3, no. 2 (1959). With the text of Sandburg and Travis' notion of a tonic sonority arrived at by prolongation, the poem's imagery of the sea-wash never ending becomes a wash of sonority with the piano's sustaining pedal down throughout the work. The tonic of this tonal piece is as one hears it, for though suggesting a polytonal coloring, it is based wholly an eight-note scale - C, D-flat, E-flat, F, G, A, B-flat and B-natural such that four scale notes within the scale are adjacent half-steps. The long arch repeats as Sandburg's poetry and Travis' theoretical suppositions suggest, simple contrapuntal lines defining the tonality, neither fully minor nor major.




Roy and Vicky Travis


Roy Travis passed away in October 2013, after caring for his bride of 67 years and after teaching and mentoring many composers throughout his career. I will recall fondly visits to their home, meals at their table and music shared there. He'd written me about an uncompleted project, only weeks before he died and so a chapter in the book of life closes, as another opens. For more on Professor Roy Travis's career as composer, music theorist and teacher, please see his short biographical sketch which accompanied a song I'd written in his honor some years ago. See: Over silent waters.


The score for Sea-Wash is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.