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Sarah Manning: Shattering The Glass Ceiling

By Published: June 14, 2010
AAJ: Congratulations on the release of Dandelion Clock. It's impressive how well everything works on the record. Your compositions are interesting and melodically rich. You've developed into a soloist with a genuine voice. There's a feeling of mutual support in the band. And everyone on the record gets a chance to shine. Please elaborate on the origin and evolution of the project.

SM: Actually, this project is extremely cathartic for me. I hadn't recorded in about three years. And in that time, I moved to New York City on April 1st of last year. It was a major life change for me in many ways. I arrived in the city with little more than some books and my horn. So it was a major transition. I really felt like I had arrived at a place where what I was going for with the music was almost implicit in lives of my peers. I feel like I stepped into a community in a way I never felt before. The life change was very positive but also painful. The compositions are coming from a place where I was able to translate what I was going through in my life into music.

One of the compositions is called "Crossing, Waiting." That one is modeled after the sound of a train's signal gate. I had Kyle [Struve] use one of his cymbals that has a concert A overtone. And then I wrote the tune based on knowing that. It's got some tritone elements as well.

The train crossing is very symbolic for me in my life experience, and it has a literature reference as well to a book by Madeline L'Engle. She's written some books for children and a number of books for adults. In one pivotal scene from the book, And Both Were Young, the protagonist is a young artist and boarding school student. She has broken the rules to visit someone outside of campus boundaries, and just when she is about to cross the train tracks and back onto campus and safety, she's spotted by school officials. Because it is dusk she can't be sure they recognized her since many of the girls look alike in their uniforms. At that moment a train passed by, giving her the choice to run off and hope they didn't identify her, or wait for the train to pass, cross the tracks, and face the consequences, which could include being expelled. She chose to wait for the train to pass and then cross the tracks. So that's kind of the metaphor I was using for this particular tune.

AAJ: Art Hirahara, Linda Oh
Linda Oh
Linda Oh

, and Kyle Struve are your cohorts in Shatter the Glass and they play on the new record as well. Tell me something about their individual contributions to the music on Dandelion Clock.

SM: I tried to write features for each person. The tune "The Owls (Are On The March)" ended up being a real feature for Art. Again, it's because of his almost classical-sounding contrapuntal playing. There are some passages that are almost fugue-like, where he and I and the bass are playing, where the time kind of breaks down. He's also using the piano strings on that piece.

Linda is featured on "Crossing, Waiting," both in keeping up the pulse of the tune, and also the bridge is a little bit of a nod to Mingus' "Fables of Faubus." Basically, it's a division of three. She's playing triplets over the four-four time.

One of the things Kyle's done as part of his musical resume, is playing with a rock band called Heavy Rescue. He has the indie rock sound as part of his drumming. So the arrangement of "The Windmills Of Your Mind" is sort of a homage to Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)," when the drums come in at the very end with a really rock-and-roll back beat.

AAJ: Were the compositions written specifically for the record date?

SM: "The Owls (Are On The March)" was written when I was in transition from the West Coast to New York City. I spent about a year-and-a-half in Massachusetts, in between. So that was written ahead of time. As the band grew tighter, the tune evolved a little more. "Marble" was written specifically for the date. The arrangements of "The Peacocks" and "The Windmills Of Your Mind" were done especially for the date. "Phoenix Song" and "Habersham Street" I had recorded previously, but not with this ensemble. "I Tell Time By The Dandelion Clock" and "Crossing, Waiting" were written with the album in mind.

AAJ: It's striking how well "The Peacocks" and "The Windmills Of Your Mind" mesh with your original compositions. What made you decide to choose these two tunes for the record?

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