Riprap  for soprano and piano (2011) 

on Gary Snyder's "Riprap"

Premiered at the 2011 New Music on the Point by Sara Noble and Adam Marks.


Gary Snyder cobbles together small words that are full of meaning. The words in “Riprap” are his experience maintaining trails in the Sierra Mountains; they do not tell a story, but are the story. The poet lays down words, the trail worker lays down riprap, and in Gary Snyder they are one in the same. Both acts are generous.

“Riprap” is a great poem, and that is enough. I did not intend to set it to music, but to place music in it, expanding the metaphor to the composer laying down notes. Snyder’s voice remains abstractly: the herky-jerk syncopations in the piano are translations of his still-hip and lucid manner of speech 50 years after the poem’s creation (in this clip). The pianist is reciter, a cobbler of fleeting arpeggios and of two and three-note chords–each chord, a “found object” sonority detached from a conventional harmonic context that nevertheless fits into the flow.

The soprano is no less featured than usual, though her role as principle actor has changed. Who is she in this drama? She responds as a reader might respond, tentative at ECSTATIC! This trajectory is present too in the text. From “rocks” and “bark, leaf, or wall” to “straying planets” and finally “The worlds like an endless/four- dimentional/Game of Go.” The poetic content becomes so deep, so loaded with metaphor on such a broad scale that it reaches a moment of metaphysical ecstasy...a cadenza...before zooming back to the mundane: “ants and pebbles.”

Note: an open call for collaboration to work with a soprano-piano duo on adding 3-4  songs from Snyder's "Riprap" collection. If interested, contact me with a couple of links to your audio or video performances and we can figure out if it will be a good match.