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When do they is not the same as why do they

1988 • 18 minutes • Solo percussion

'When do they is not the same as why do they' is a three movement work for solo (non-pitched) percussion which draws its inspiration from the writings of Gertrude Stein. Stein's writings often don't 'make sense' in the usual way but instead seem to communicate at a deeper, more abstract, 'musical' level.


The title is the last line preceding the main section of Stein's book entitled 'A book concluding with As a wife has a cow'. The short story which forms the main part of this book is featured in a musical 'transcription' in the first movement, Stein's syntactical structure creating the formal structure for the freely composed motives. 'Melanctha' is the title of the second part of an early work of Stein's entitled 'Three Lives'. In this work, the main character, a black woman named Melanctha seems to be driven to exist in a self destructive manner. The movement is not programmatic beyond simply trying to capture the melancholic mood of the story. The last movement - 'Eyes are always' - makes explicit the implicit poyrhythmic and poly- metric textures found throughout the rest of the piece.


The work was commissioned by Beverley Johnston with the assistance of the Ontario Arts Council. The text 'As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story' by Gertrude Stein (1926) is used with the permission of the Estate of Gertrude Stein.

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