On Cold Mountain is a new album of songs based on poems by Gary Snyder, sung by Karen Clark with the Galax Quartet. The inspiration for the music comes from a variety of sources. Karen Clark and composer/viola da gambist Roy Whelden are both graduates of IU.
Drawn In By The Poetry Of Song
Clark's fans know her best as a recitalist, but as a graduate student she performed with the IU Opera Theatre and the Early Music Institute. "My degree's focus was in opera," she says, "but during that time Thomas Binkley came to found the Early Music Institute, and I sang quite a bit with them. When I left school and continued my career I found that the poetry of the song literature was what drew me most. So I've focused on recitals and some oratorio work."
Whelden, like Clark, also worked in two musical worlds at IU. As an instrumentalist playing the viola da gamba he found himself in ensembles playing works from the 16th and 17th centuries. Meanwhile, in composition classes, he embraced the whole history of music right up into the 20th century and beyond.
Whelden feels that composing new music for his instrument is a way to keep it alive. The Galax Quartet features two violins with Whelden's viola da gamba and a cello.
The Beats' Source
The texts for On Cold Mountain come from the translations and poems of Gary Snyder, a poet whose work was deeply respected by the beats, like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, and later by scholars of Eastern Philosophy, as well as activists in the environmental movement. Whelden found the poems while leafing through a book in a Bloomington bookstore. "I just casually looked at them and then, as I read, they simply did more than poems had ever done."
Clark is attracted to Snyder's work, too. "I think it's the whole concern for and sense of the environment that touches me."
In addition to setting by Whelden, album features works by Fred Frith, Robert Morris, and W.A. Mathieu.