Westview News Interview with Eve Beglarian
“Building the Bird Mound”, a new work for chorus and organ by Eve Beglarian---to receive its world premiere April 18 by Voices of Ascension at Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue and 10th Street
By Barbara Chacour
Two years ago Voices of Ascension’s music director Dennis Keene commissioned composer Eve Beglarian to write a work for chorus and organ, set to a spiritual text. In 2009 Beglarian had set off on a 4-month kayak trip the length of the Mississippi River, to collect sounds, songs, spiritual inspiration from the great river and from people along the way. WestView News interviewed Beglarian in her West Village apartment to learn about “Building the Bird Mound”, a 15 minute composition which came out of what she calls her “River Project”.
Beglarian relates that she took prize money she had won to finance the kayak trip down the river, starting in Minnesota in August 2009, sleeping at campsites along the way. When she reached Mississippi and visited an ancient Native American site there, she was strongly advised by an acquaintance to visit Poverty Point, Louisiana, the site of the prehistoric “Bird Mound”. This large earthwork in the form of a giant bird with outspread wings is believed to date to at least 1500 BCE. Paleontologists consider it a gathering place for a hunter/gatherer people, rather than a settlement by an agricultural community. The importance of the mysterious site is rising as excavation proceeds— this year the U.S. requested a World Heritage designation by UNESCO.
Standing in the center of the mound, Beglarian responded to the human creative impulse behind it. She says, “They were piling up dirt. It had to have been an immense community effort devoted to a vision of building something.” The act of building became her core inspiration. Thinking about her reaction, I realize that when we visit ancient temples and cathedrals we can place them in some historic context, while prehistoric sites are totally mysterious.
Beglarian says that she also felt the sheltering effect of the outstretched wings on the Bird Mound. She imagines the ancient people feeling the same comfort. Eventually she saw the relationship to verses from Psalms* which refer to the sheltering wings of God. She used these in her text. She also included Latin verses by Adam of St. Victor about finding inspiration in the labor of building.
Dennis Keene tells WestView News that the piece has an intense atmosphere and a wide range of emotions that draw you in and hold you from the beginning to the end.
*”Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings I will rejoice.” Psalm 63
Eve Beglarian’s website is evbvd.com; you can order limited edition cd’s of other music from the River Project performed by her trio.
Barbara Chacour has been enjoying concerts at the Church of the Ascension for 5 decades. In 2011 she interviewed music director Dennis Keene for WestView News on the occasion of the inauguration of the Manton Memorial organ. She has since joined the board of directors of Voices of Ascension.