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In the middle of 2002, Tim Cummings, an American who had been living in New Zealand for some years, returned home and, with his friend Ringo, embarked on a road-trip from Florida to Los Angeles. Along the way he e-mailed his friends a series of haiku poems (sixteen in total) that related his coast-to-coast experiences of a land that, although his own, he had come to feel like a stranger in. From the lethargy and obesity of Florida's residents, to the disturbing cruelty of an animal park tour guide in Louisiana, to the beautiful but oppressive landscape of the desert, the depraved glitz of Las Vegas and the polluted haze hanging above Los Angeles, Tim's haiku, though necessarily brief, said much about the country from which Western popular culture draws so much.
I began the task of setting Tim's words to music as momentum was gathering for the American-lead war on Iraq. Don't Mess With Texas is a view - admittedly through a distant lens - of an essentially insular people, whose outward gestures, driven by self-interest and an unconscious belief in the superiority of their culture, often take on menacing forms. The many style quotations should not be interpreted as hammy representations of American stereotypes portrayed with music, but rather should reflect the sometimes dangerous consequences of unbridled patriotism and of ignorance of matters global. That said, Don't Mess With Texas deals not only with America's human population and alluded to socio-political-environmental matters, but with the beauty of its natural interior, where a redemptive musical language is able to emerge from the urban chaos.
Don't Mess With Texas is dedicated to Tim Cummings, the sort of open-eyed American the world needs more of. The work was premiered by gateseven in May 2003, conductor Ewan Clark, soprano soloist Madeleine Pierard.
to Tim Cummings
haiku by Tim Cummings
08 Apr 2003: Performed by Madeleine Pierard (soprano) and gateseven conducted by Ewan Clark at St. Andrew's on The Terrace.