Half Notes: Rest

Half Notes: Rest

Brandon Harrington was present in 2014 when his grandfather died. This man’s passing was the inspiration for “Rest,” which Brandon wrote several months later. In “Rest,” we hear death presented as two journeys embarked on simultaneously. In one journey, the dying person confronts death at the end of life. In the other journey, the still-living family and friends of the deceased confront life at the end of death, as they seek meaning in the loss of their loved one.

“Rest” begins with quiet strings pulling us into the journey of the person who is dying. Within seconds the mood shifts from gentle to disquieting. More and more instruments join in, as if fighting for attention. Throughout the first five minutes of the piece, there is a feel of increasing intensity, almost like an army marching to war. Over and over, the horn raises its voice, like a battle cry: “I will not be defeated by this!” But as the horn strives to rise above the fray, it betrays a nervous confidence, and underlying the bravado is a sense of losing control.

As quickly as it began, the struggle ends. There is no talk of defeat, of winning or losing. It simply ends. Now there is just the piano—calm, funereal, almost languorous. He rests.

In the second half of the piece, gradually we are pulled from our reverie into the journey of the still-living. Strings and horns eventually dominate, pushing the piano to the background. Unlike the courageousness of the first half of “Rest,” however, the mood is now more frenetic, more staccato. There are many things to do, places to go. The quiet void of death cannot be left empty; it must be filled with the noisy busy-ness of the still-living.

Until it is not. The horn returns, calmly and insistently, pushing aside the cacophony of activity. Surprisingly, the horn possesses the same bravado as in the opening minutes of the piece. But now it is not a call to avoid defeat, but rather an invitation to rest… to rest… to rest. At the very end, there is quiet, for the piano to return. It, too, calls us to rest. And we do.

As I write this, I mourn the death several weeks ago of my own mother, after a long illness. The death of one man whom I did not know, inspired the music of one man whom I do, to offer me a lens through which to experience my mother’s passing in a different light. I think that is what Brandon Harrington had in mind when he composed “Rest.”

– Dan Lory

Hear Rest at CCO’s Oct 26 concert at St James cathedral: MORE INFO AND TICKETS

About Half-Notes:

By popular demand, once again we are offering our series called Half-Notes. Half-Notes are reflections by Dan Lory, CCO’s non-expert in residence, on each of the compositions performed in our concert.

Dan Lory calls himself a music lover who is unencumbered by knowledge of music theory. Enjoy Dan’s take on each piece that will be performed at CCO’s October 26 concert. We think these reflections will help all listeners—from music experts to the theory-unencumbered among us—enjoy the concert more fully.