“For this, I will spend myself, and if I burn, I’ll burn.”
With this sense of abandon songwriter, harpist, and composer Timbre has thrown herself into an incredibly ambitious new project; the double-disc concept album Sun & Moon. The record circulates around the idea that classical and commercial music are intrinsically connected, that art always influences art. Sun features chamber-folk songs written with her band, while Moon features classical pieces written for full orchestra and choir.
Timbre Cierpke grew up in the classical world. Her father is a cellist, an orchestra conductor, and music professor at a university. Her mother is a choral director. They named their children after musical terms (Treble, Tenor, Timbre, Tetra), and immersed them in music from day one. Timbre, a child prodigy, learned to read music before words, and was playing professionally by age 12.
In college, Timbre explored writing songs and composing, and found herself immediately blurring the lines between classical and songwriting, creating her own sound. She began playing and recording with bands all over the country, bringing the harp into entirely new genres: Timbre was featured on Jack White’s newest album, Lazaretto, and has played with hard core bands (mewithoutYou), pop / indie songwriters (Brooke Waggonner), blue grass icons (Ricky Skaggs), and hard rock acts (O’Brother). All of these experiences taught Timbre to use her instrument to communicate in the full spectrum of musical languages, and to see that they were not all that different. Soon she was longing to bridge the gap between the classical world she grew up in and the pop world she had grown to love. From this, the idea for Sun & Moon was born.
Playing with the ideas of reflection, shadow, light, and darkness, the two halves of Sun & Moon reflect one another, mirroring the relationship between these two art forms. Many of the musical themes (and many of the same musicians) make the jump between the sides. To further this idea of reflection, Timbre wrote a melody to be performed both forwards and backwards. Says Timbre, “Sun starts with a song called “Sunrise”, and Moon of course begins with a “Sunset”. I wanted these songs to reflect each other, as the sunset and sunrise do in nature, so I connected them with a melody palindrome. “Sunrise” ends with a soaring cello and violin melody. At the opening of “Sunset” I wrote a soprano solo with the same melody, but sung backwards, note for note.”
The warmth of the ascendant star can also be felt in the “Song of the Sun”, wherein Timbre personifies the sun, singing over nature at the end of winter, waking it up. One by one, classical instruments, contemporary instruments, and choir all join in with their own themes, adding layer upon layer, as nature responds and builds into an exultant declaration of “I am alive!”
Some of the most vivid imagery on the album can be found in the pairing of the orchestral “Day Boy: Photogen Sees the Moon” and its counterpart on Sun, “Night Girl: Nycteris Sees the Sun”. They are based on a short story by George MacDonald, “The Love Story of Photogen And Nycteris”, about a boy raised entirely in light, and a girl raised entirely in darkness. Neither one knows that the other half of reality exists. As they meet and fall in love, they learn of the other’s world, and must learn to love it out of love for each other.
While “Day Boy” uses an orchestra to illustrate the boy’s experience, weaving together themes from the entire project into one story line, like an overture, “Night Girl” utilizes Timbre’s talented backing band. “Night Girl” plays with themes of dark and light; the song starts with dark brass, distant echoing drums, and floating chords in the choir, as Timbre, as Nycteris in her cave, sings innocently; contemplating what the sun must be like. Nycteris decides to risk everything to see the sun, and steps out into the light. Suddenly everything drops away in an intoxicatingly complicated and driving musical representation of the pain and the glory of seeing light for the first time.
Drawing from this story, Timbre treats light and dark not as good and evil, but as different shades of beauty. When viewed together, a fuller picture of life can be seen. With Sun & Moon Timbre paints vividly with the light, the joy, the passion of modern music, and the darkness, depth, and richness of classical music, and shows that together, they can communicate beauty in greater depths than either can alone. Like the two characters of the story, Timbre seeks to draw listeners into both worlds, learning and experiencing the beauty of both, hearing their unique languages, until a new dialect is formed.