I often wonder what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of my children. I have two sons, Declan and Izaak, and, at the time of writing this piece, they were ages two and four, respectively. The title, Their Eyes Are Fireflies, is a metaphor for the magic and joy they bring to my life. The light in their eyes—both the way in which they take in the world with wonder and amazement as well as the way they add light to the world with their innocence and joy—has shaped and changed my perspective in profound ways.
For Declan, at age two, there are so many beginnings, so many firsts, so many discoveries, and so many adventures. The first movement begins with an extended trombone cadenza in time, building from the foundations of the instrument into increasingly accelerating, ascending, and ecstatic waves and surrounded by distant echoes and a halo of dimly twinkling lights. These waves finally burst, revealing a distorted image of the beginning—cascading waves of sound that finally come crashing down like an overgrown tower of toy blocks.
The second movement, This song makes my heart not hurt, is for Izaak. One day he said this exact phrase, and its simplicity and directness stopped me in my tracks. For me, this very unadult-like turn of phrase contained something special—both a recognition and admission of pain but also a turning toward healing. This music is my humble meditation on Izaak’s words.
The third movement is entitled Izaak’s Control Panels. Izaak loves to draw and paint. One of Izaak’s favorite subjects has been ever more fantastical control panels. We have piles of these controls panels in our house, carefully created using pencils, pens, markers, and paint on sheets of paper of varying sizes and colors. These control panels are connected to airplanes, race cars, boats, helicopters, and even strange, imaginary machines that he’s created both in his imagination as well as with Legos. What’s more, the panels often contain gadgets and gauges for unusual and awesome purposes, including to measure the level of mint chocolate ice cream (his favorite flavor), chocolate milk, pasta, as well as typical things like speed, altitude, and fuel. This music comes from looking at the world through the creative and surreal lens of a four year old—motoric, machine-like music for building imaginary worlds is disrupted by the playful smashing, destruction, and recreation of those worlds, culminating in a spectacular and bizarre place where time flows backward, objects fall up rather than down, and airplanes come with milkshake gauges.
Commissioned by Ava Ordman and a consortium of trombonists, conductors, ensembles, and sponsors led by:
Timothy Muffitt & the Lansing Symphony Orchestra
Kevin Sedatole & the Michigan State University Wind Symphony
The Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra
Mark Williams & Grand Valley State University
Timothy Higgins, San Francisco Symphony
Jeremy Wilson, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth Tompkins, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
David Jackson, Michael Haithcock & the University of Michigan Symphony Band
Nan Washburn & the Michigan Philharmonic
Robert Carnochan, Timothy Conner & the University of Miami Wind Ensemble
Mallory Thompson & the Northwestern University Wind Ensemble
Rodney Dorsey, Henry Henniger, & the University of Oregon Wind Ensemble
Robert Lindahl, Central Michigan University
Steven Kandow, University of Saint Francis