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Piercing Sweet...Blinding Sweet (2019)

soprano (pitch pipe), flute (melodica), cello (kazoo), percussion - 8 min

[text from "A Musical Instrument" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning]

written for Found Sound Ensemble

     Piercing Sweet...Blinding Sweet is meant to be a musical retelling of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "A Musical Instrument". all the instrumentalists, besides the percussionist, double on uncommon instruments that add to the oddity and comedy of this piece. Pan, the Greek god, spends the poem making a pan flute. in order to do this, he needs to use reeds from the river which he "hacks and hewed" and further defiles the reed to construct his instrument. thus, the doublings of Found Sound's instrumentation are all reed or reed-like instruments. 

A Musical Instrument

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan, 

    Down in the reeds by the river ? 

Spreading ruin and scattering ban, 

Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, 

And breaking the golden lilies afloat 

    With the dragon-fly on the river.                     



He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,                   

    From the deep cool bed of the river :               

The limpid water turbidly ran, 

And the broken lilies a-dying lay, 

And the dragon-fly had fled away,                       

    Ere (before) he brought it out of the river.         


High on the shore sat the great god Pan,                       

    While turbidly flowed the river ; 

And hacked and hewed as a great god can,          

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,        

Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed 

    To prove it show it was fresh from the river. 



He cut it short, did the great god Pan,                   

    (How tall it stood in the river !)                        

Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,         

Steadily from the outside ring,                            

And notched the poor dry empty thing                    

    In holes, as he sat by the river. 


This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan,                   

    Laughed while he sat by the river,)                            

The only way, since gods began                                    

To make sweet music, they could succeed.'                  

Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,            

    He blew in power by the river.                                  



Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !                                         

    Piercing sweet by the river ! 

Blinding sweet, O great god Pan ! 

The sun on the hill forgot to die, 

And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly                    

    Came back to dream on the river. 




Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,                    

    To laugh as he sits by the river,                        

Making a poet out of a man :                               

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, — 

For the reed which grows nevermore again         

    As a reed with the reeds in the river.              

/score/ • /rec/ 


[Dana Sullivan, soprano; Molly Hodson, flute; Sam Kelly, cello; Hollis Wittman, percussion]

the score can be downloaded for free. please note that the music is protected by copyright. if you'd like to play the piece, feel free to get in touch with me here.


working with Molly Hodson and Sam Kelly at a rehearsal of "Piercing Sweet...Blinding Sweet"

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