Racheal Cogan

The Apple Tree

 Composition, Recorders, Piano, Mixing: Racheal CoganRecorders by Geri Bollinger - alto (F or G), tenor, bass, cbass, and contrabass.


I wrote this piece for an instrument that Geri Bollinger made for me from the gorgeous, elderly apple tree in his photo above.

This tree brought a lot of happiness. It is hard to not be drawn into the red hammock to lie there daydreaming, listening to the birds, and imagining the ants crawling over your feet or the book you might be reading. The tree stood in a vacant lot behind Geri's house until the day that the owners of the land decided to build a house on it and the apple tree was cut down to make room. Now the wood from the tree has given voice to three G alto recorders (and a wooden spoon that I use for cooking).

All of my instruments come from different places, and the wood that made them has often travelled several times around the world before the instrument is in my hands; from heavy cold grenadilla and ebony, boxwood that yellows darkly over the years (and that on one recorder has warped into a beautiful crookedness), to lovely light maple, pear and apple. Often the first question a person asks me about my instruments is: "What wood is that?" Usually I know, but sometimes my head muddles into a frown and I have no idea. This beautiful G apple alto is the first time that I have heard a story of the tree that made it: photos and histories as it was still growing, how much joy it brought to the maker, how he was sad to lose it, how he later found the wood abandoned, aged it carefully, and then the story of the making.


In this composition I weave together a melody rising up from the apple alto that had been creeping slowly into my days, buoyed by a mosaic of repetitive motifs and large swathes where people aren't just playing together but overlapping different ideas and coming together often just in pairs with their own threads. The piano part is holding these otherwise disparate lines together and bringing rhythmic impetus and color; sometimes hinting at morning fog, or  rhythmically shivering as if reaching its limbs outwards. The contrabass plays a very simple role in the music - lots of held low notes because I just love how rich they are, and the use of an occasional octave pedal to bring in hints of some super low frequencies; because I am a bass-junkie. The cBass plays this role some of the time sharing with the contrabass, but it also brings its own stories - especially in the opening  where it joins the piano.

Because it also takes a village to make a piece of music, I couldn't have composed, recorded and scored The Apple Tree without all of the timely suggestions and advice from Geri, Susanna, and Andrew. Thank you so much for listening; and for your patience, time, and generosity. I couldn't have dreamed up a better support team, and the music is better because of you.

The Apple Tree is written for piano and five recorders:- alto (F or G), tenor, bass, cbass, and contrabass. For those who want to try playing it, the score will be published by Edition Tre Fontane in 2018. All of the recorders used in this recording were made by Geri.


The Hildegard Project

O Virgo Ac Diadema, Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179). Cello - Christine Williams. Arrangement, vocals, recorder, production and recording - Racheal Cogan.

This music was written by the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179) - almost 1,000 years ago. It is from the Symphonia Armoniae Celestium Revelationum, andthese pieces are set to her own text. Hildegard was known to have had visions throughout her life and these formed a significant part of her body of work.

This music is different to read than most common modern notation - the staves here tend to have 4 lines (rather than the 5 we are more accustomed to) and the clefs move around, so you read it more as a linear pattern than actually looking at a note and knowing what it is. I hadn't ever played or sung any of this kind of early vocal liturgical chant, so I began by listening to a lot of versions of this piece (particularly from the album Symphoniae by Sequentia). As I was working through the idiosyncrasies of reading the notation, I didn't feel ready to learn it from the facsimile (as above), and instead chose a version published in James R. Briscoe's Historical Anthology of Music by Women (see below). It's more of a tidied up version with training wheels for reading early liturgical notation that preserves the four lines for a stave and all of those neumes; so I still had a sense of the original notation and ideas of phrasing to inform our interpretation:


I took my time learning a way around the notes, struggling with the Latin and, because I am me, feeling uncomfortable with the religiosity and lack of, I don't know - humor, and, um, the sheer grandiosity and damn seriousness of the translation of the words. I tend to gravitate towards a more modern sentiment of humility in the grand scheme; Kings and Guilt and Races seem puny compared to the geological epochs that our planet has moved through, dinosaurs and all. (Oh crafty serpent of Eve, where would we have all been without you?) So, big breath - the text:

(Translation from the Latin by Clifford Johnson in the Historical Anthology of Music by Women)

O virgin, as well, the diadem of the crimson royal purple of the king who in your gate like as a breastplate

You, becoming verdant, bloomed through all the changes which Adam brought forth in every race of man.

Hail, hail, from your womb all life proceeded which Adam had stripped from his sons.

Oh flower, you were not to put forth from the dew, neither from the drops of rain, nor from the air which flowed from above, but the divine clarity brought you forth a most noble virgin.

O Virgin, God foresaw your flowering in the first day of his creatures. And from the word he made your golden matter.

O most noble virgin, oh how great it is, in his strength from the side of man God produced the form of woman, which he made a mirror of all to his adornment and an honour to all of his creatures.

For that, the heavenly sounds celebrate and all the earth wonders, O most laudable Mary, whom God has certainly loved.

O how certainly it is to be bewailed and lamented because the sorrow from the guilt through the craftiness of the serpent has flowed in women.

But now, a woman alone whom God has made mother of all, has expelled through her womb the disaster of ignorance and has manifested the full grief of her race.

But, O morning star, from your womb a new sun has exploded, banishing every guilt of Eve and has brought through you a greater blessing because Eve harmed man.

Whence, O Salvatrix, you have brought forward a new human light, gather together the limbs of your son to heavenly harmony.






My idea was to write an arrangement to perform with my friend cellist Christine Williams. Working out how to notate it so that it didn't diminish the power of the music that has been left to us was challenge enough, I was also reluctant to bind the notes to a strict rhythm, but I had to work out an efficient way for us to learn the piece together. Then, we patiently rehearsed, working our way through the ideas. I'm sure that we both thought it would never work, but slowly the sounds came together and we started playing together as one in what was becoming a cohesive piece of music.


Just after recording this piece with Christine, I was walking through a big leafy park in the early summer and I started to hear it in my head a little differently: A door creaking open with a gust of wind taking us into another space from a very different time, a wooden floor creaking and a person's footsteps leading us through. I love the idea of creating music spatially, surrounded by fragments of sounds from a particular time and space telling a story. But then, I then had to take a break from all of these ideas for a couple of months to make my own journey moving our home 3,600 kilometers from Calgary to Montreal packing, cleaning, driving, and crazy adventures. Finally after arriving in Montreal, as the cracked ceilings of our small rented apartment were being plastered and painted, I spent some time working through these additional ideas at the same time as unpacking, repairing, and cleaning up bits of plaster and flaky paint whilst moving furniture out of the way and back again. This is what I came up with for now. Put on some decent headphones and enjoy!

 Thank you Christine for the time you spent with me working on this music, your beautiful playing, friendship and support; I already miss you.

Thank you Geri and Susanna for your comments and for listening!

It Snows Here

♦ Racheal Cogan - composer, recorders, harpsichord, mixing

Kung Bass Recorder (designed and built by Geri Bollinger), Treble recorder (by Michael Grinter)

♦ Tony Lewis - tombak

♦ Jay Elfenbein- bass Viola da Gamba

♦ Wendy Rowlands - viola

♦ Jonathan Lewis - violin

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This project could not have existed without the generosity and beautiful playing of the four musicians. They all contributed from different parts of the globe: Wendy and Tony in Australia, Tony in Sydney, and Wendy in rural Newstead (Victoria). Jay recorded his parts in France, and Jonathan (closer to me) in Calgary. I thank them all for so generously giving their time and skills to this project. Tony also for his invaluable mixing advice.

A big thanks goes to Violaine Corradi for the ideas and advice she so generously gave that allowed this piece to develop beyond my expectations and preconceived ideas.

Whilst working on the last parts of It Snows Here, my mind often turned to my dear friend Lucille who passed away late last year as I started sketching this project out. This piece is dedicated to you Lucille who squeezed every last drop of living (and way more) out of life. You taught me  how to make a tomato pasta sauce and how to select the freshest of produce. My stomach thanks you every time I eat.

Last week I worked on the final mix as it snowed for three days outside my window. The trees hadn't even thought about dropping their leaves or changing color, so the weight of the snow on their lush leafed branches caused a lot of destruction to the deciduous trees in Calgary. Many lovely old trees were lost in this time.

In this place I am learning about the cold, the ice, and most of all - the snow that can fall for 8 months of the year.

Midday, midwinter, just outside Canmore.
Midday, midwinter, just outside Canmore.