An elegy is typically written for a person who has died, but the form is fluid and can be applied to other loses as well: the end of a relationship, of innocence, of an era. The title of violist Jonah Sirota‘s STRONG SAD bears the message that healing, and eventually strength, can be the end product of mourning. These eight pieces, penned by multiple composers, attest to that grace.
Not that the traditional is absent, as hints of “Danny Boy” surface in Rodney Lister’s “Quodlibet,” inspired by the Southern hymnal and dedicated to the artist’s father. As for sound, the opening track is recorded on a church organ. But the field expands from there. Sirota’s collaboration with Valgeir Sigur∂sson involves multiple layers of composition and improvisation, imitating the way in which memories and attitudes are adjusted and revisited on the way to emotional reconciliation. “Remnant” may refer to the physical remnant of the recording sessions or the spiritual remnant of the mourning process. In like fashion, A.J. McCaffrey‘s “Here Come the Waterworks,” written for viola and piano, acts as a multi-act play in which the viola is “relearning speech or song.” The piece tumbles through the stages of grief, albeit (realistically) not in stratified order.
Family comes into play on two of the tracks, as “Elegy for a Lost World” (no relation to Jurassic Park) is penned by Sirota’s father Robert as an elegy for innocence, and Nico Muhly‘s “Lean” is performed by Sirota and his sister Nadia as a conversation that eventually reaches a state of mutual understanding. In contrast, Paola Prestina explores the nature of solitude as it relates to strength ~ a reminder that introverts and extroverts process the world differently and turn to different sources for comfort. Never is this more true than in mourning, as some need space while others need company.
Sirota’s “When You Lose You Win” is the album’s most political piece, “meant as a counterbalance to Donald Trump’s bullying rhetoric.” The composition is a reminder that much of the world has been in a constant cycle of mourning ever since the election; there seems no rest from the bombast, as loss is mounted upon loss: civility, civil rights, the peace with other nations, and any progress that we might have made on the environment. This ennui is playing in the background of all our days, making this elegy an elegy for all of us. But it’s also crucial to note that Sirota sees light: “Let us learn to mourn every day a little. To help heal ourselves, each other, and this world.” (Richard Allen)