H-CENTRAL COAST

Feb 5, 2013 9:36 AM by Dan Shadwell

Local musician nominated for Grammy on work of homeless composer

The Grammy Awards are coming up this weekend and if you guessed that we'd have least one of the nominees living in our midst, you'd be right.
Garry Eister of Arroyo Grande is nominated in a new sub-catagory of classical music, for a recording of the work of Harry Partch.
Partch was a musician and composer who chose to be a hobo, wandering the west coast in the mid-1930s during the height of the Great Depression.
"Think about that," says Eister. "One of every four people you know, doesn't have the where-with-all to feed themselves."
Garry Eister says Partch understood what a strange choice that must have seemed.
"He says--and I quote, 'for reasons that are psychologically confused, I decided to set out on the road.' "
By all accounts, Harry Partch soaked up the sights and especially sounds of the transient shelters and work camps in Nipomo and dozens of other towns scattered along the Central Coast, jotting down his thoughts, drawings, and musical ideas. It became a journal that he dubbed "Bitter Music"--a collection of dissonant songs and spoken passages set to music.
"there's some in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, and Big Sur," Eister explains of the entries.
In one transient camp for example, a health official corrals people waiting to be treated for lice. Eister says Partch paid particular attention to the melodic nature of the officials commands. Eister seats himself at the piano and reads Partch's account, "I'm sent through a door into a dressing room. I only have the clothes on me."
Then he taps a staccato sequence of keys in time with the words,... "Take them off! They've gotta be deloused!"
But Eister says Partch was more than a chronicler. He was on his way to rejecting what he saw as a stagnant tradition of classical composition. In one passage of "Bitter Music," he even dared mock work by some of history's greats, including a prelude by Chopin, which had apparently lodged in Partch's head, unwilling to depart.
Eventually, Partch rejected the entire western music tradition, expanding the standard 12 note octave to 43 notes, and inventing some wacky looking instruments that could accommodate his new scales and compositions. Eister says it was an almost unimaginable task. "I admire him as a great example of a truly creative individual and persistent. it was not an easy thing to do."
Now, years after his death, Partch's "Bitter Music" will reach a huge audience as Eister and the three other artists on the "Bitter Music" recording head to the Grammys.
"That's pretty cool," I point out.
Eister nods his head. "I'll take it," he laughs. "I'm delighted,... I'm pleased,... I'm surprised... I'm happy."
The Grammy catagory, "Best Musical Compendium" is a sub-genre of classical music and classical crossover. Eister and company are up against a baroque singing ensemble, and a recording of some orchestral works by a modern polish composer.
I ask him how he rates his chances. "One in three," he says, with a laugh.

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