On December 10, 2022, I sat in the kitchen at my aunt’s house in Attleboro, Massachusetts. It was my grandmother’s 98th birthday and I had driven in to help her celebrate. Although her eyesight had long been diminishing, her sense of taste remained rapturous and we devoured the chocolate cake I brought from Brooklyn. As we sipped our coffee that morning, she began to share some memories, nuggets of wisdom, her keys to a happy life. This was not the first time she had felt the need to commune with me—or to try to set me straight—but for some reason, this time felt different. I sat my phone on the counter and started recording. This was our last conversation together.
A few weeks later, as I was struggling to find a doorway into a new piece for clarinetist Paula Corley, I listened back to my grandmother’s conversation. Certain words and phrases began to pop out, to stick with me. I’d rewind and listen again. And again. The same words, simple ideas, “be kind” and “love people” started to haunt me, to follow me. The cadence she spoke with, the rhythm of these words—I couldn’t escape them. They began to replay in my head for the next few weeks, a mantra my subconscious was insistent upon embedding in my brain. Finally, it became clear that I could no longer ignore the obvious. This was my way into Paula’s piece—indeed, my only way in. I had no choice but to take these words and somehow translate them into music.
Windfall (noun): an apple or other fruit blown down from a tree or bush by the wind.
When I think about this word, Windfall, I think about how my grandmother’s words and her kindness have fallen down to me, and how she lived her life so generously, continually inspiring happiness and laughter in those around her. Even back in 1940, when she was only 15 or 16 years old, the New York Times wrote of her “cheerful personality” and “good sportsmanship.” I wonder how many other people have sat under her tree over the years and also felt that same mighty wind shower them with “be kind, love people.”
The more I think about it, the more I realize that there are many other people like my grandmother who have moved mountains and shaped the course of my life with the simplest words, the smallest gestures. Those people have often been my teachers—specifically, my music teachers—who through their kindness and love have inspired a life-long addiction. The fruits of music have rained down over the years, and it is because of people like them—and people like Paula—that generations of young people have and will continue to feel these generous winds on their backs.
Windfall premiered on July 19, 2023, recorded privately at Texas State University with Paula Corley on clarinet, Joey Martin on piano, and Nettie Markowski narrating posthumously.
Paula Corley, clarinet
Markowski Creative (ASCAP)
No known errata.