About Eating Variations

Eating Variations is based on a series of witty poems with the same title by Ron Singer. The work as a whole is essentially a satire on food faddism and depicts different aspects of eating. The way I chose to set these poems is light-hearted, perhaps lighter in spirit than Singer originally intended, but with a serious, dark side. The first movement, My Body, a Temple, incorporates the sounds of Tibetan Singing Bowls (also called Temple Bowls or Cup Gongs) and is loosely, harmonically inspired by Khöömei, or Tuvan Throat Singing and David Hykes’s Harmonic Choir recordings; both of whom use a style in which the singer produces overtones on top of the fundamental notes. Perhaps mercifully, I do not require the baritone to use this technique, but instead, use the flute to produce false overtones in a couple of spots. In the second movement, The Hog, the instruments mimic pig sounds with scratchy, grunting noises from the violin and cello and clarinet multiphonics. A round-sounding whole-tone scale is used and there is a Polka-like accompaniment in the percussion. The third movement, Even the Dyspeptic Must Eat, uses upward and downward runs in the bass clarinet to impart a roller coaster-like sense of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, a condition in which there is recurrent return of stomach contents back up the esophagus. This is reinforced with a slow, background groove in the drums. The cello part in the fourth movement, The Dietary Moralist, is inspired by Dave Eggar, a cellist who can play his instrument like a guitar and sing at the same time. In this movement, I ask the cellist to play in a somewhat folksy style and sing out of tune back-up vocals—to me, reminiscent of a 1960s musical Hippie Sit-in. The main vocalist is backed by the well meaning but out of tune “band.” To paraphrase an interesting email exchange with Singer, we agreed that in this context, the vocalist might represent a contemporary version of a certain species of 60’s hippie—say, a particularly zealous fair trade coffee purveyor, and that this Malvolio type is singing along with a group of kindred spirits. This movement is not a literal portrayal of the text, which is quite serious in tone, and stretches the meaning more than the other movements. Perhaps my interpretation may instead be viewed more as commentary on the text. In each passing decade, people are sure of their eating habits, and the carefree, assured, commercial America of the 1950s was no different. In the last movement, The Happy Medium, I envision a father-like doctor figure squarely explaining to a patient how to eat. The perky background music is meant to evoke a 1950s TV commercial, or perhaps a short, black and white educational grade school film.

–Robert Paterson

About Robert Paterson

Robert PatersonRobert Paterson continues to gain attention here and abroad for writing “vibrantly scored and well-crafted” music that “often seems to shimmer” (NewMusicBox). Paterson was named The Composer of The Year at Carnegie Hall from the Classical Recording Foundation in 2011. His music has been on the Grammy® nomination ballot twice, and on National Public Radio’s Best Music. Paterson’s works have been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Austin Symphony, BargeMusic, Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire, Opera America conference in DC, American Modern Ensemble, Urban Arias, and Ensemble Aleph in Paris. He has been commissioned by Urban Arias, the American Brass Quintet, Claremont Trio, a string orchestra with Jack Quartet, and string players from the American Modern Ensemble. His awards include a Copland Award, awards from the American Composers Forum, and two ASCAP Young Composer Awards, and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. He holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, and Cornell University. Paterson currently resides in New York City with his wife, Victoria, and son, Dylan, and spends summers at the Rocky Ridge Music Center in Colorado where he is composer-in-residence.