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Three Adaptations (2021)

commissioned by the Bardin-Niskala Duo 

An-Lin Bardin, cello

Naomi Niskala, piano

I was commissioned by the Bardin-Niskala Duo to write a piece that incorporates folk songs from Japan, China, and Taiwan, where the musicians and I have ancestry. Unlike most composition projects, this one became an opportunity to consider my own identities, which are complex. I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Virginia. I feel both culturally connected to and disconnected from Taiwan. I am proficient in the language yet I am an outsider to the way of life there. I didn't want to make "arrangements" of original melodies because I wanted to acknowledge the distance from (and even tensions) that we each have with our respective homelands. The pitches of the melodies often appear changed, but rather than hearing these passages as distorted, I hear them as “adaptations.” As an organism adapts to a new environment, these melodies are like living things that take on new shapes when in a new context. 


The first movement uses “Northeastern Lullaby” from China. Fragments of the tune are recognizable, but mostly the pitches and the harmonies are atonal, changed from the original pentatonic. Yet, the adaptation retains the lullaby’s lyricism and spirit.


The second movement uses the Taiwanese folk song “Diu Diu Deng,” a playful tune with lyrics about a train moving through a tunnel and the sounds of water dripping on the metal roof. I play with the material by cutting it up into small fragments, collaging them at different tempos, but maintaining the upbeat energy of the original.


Third movement is inspired by the lyrics by Rofū Miki in “Aka-Tombo” and plays out like the thoughts of an individual. The poem describes how a red dragonfly landing on a bamboo fishing pole evokes nostalgic memories from childhood. In turn, I use the original melody of “Aka-Tombo” itself like a memory that floats in and out like a daydream.

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