The most immediately engaging aspect of Coin Coin is its intensely personal nature, and how that may manifest itself musically. Mississippi Moonchile is based around an interview Matana did with her grandmother about her great-grandfather Rev. John Roberts, a sharecropper and travelling preacher from Mississippi. In the interview, Matana's grandmother referenced many traditional African-American spirituals that held great important in her life, as well as many important years. She steadfastly refused to talk about the bad times of growing up in Mississippi - as Matana recites through the piece, "There's some things I just can't tell you about, honey."
The macro structure of Mississippi Moonchile is very clear: written tunes and recitations are bridged by interludes of improvising, both entirely free (to get out of the tunes) and guided by graphic notation (when cued by Matana). The cues for the graphic sections are intervals corresponding to those milestone years. Within the graphic notation, there are often three or four things going on at once: a graphic gesture, an assigned fragment of a spiritual that provides the melodic content for the graphic gesture, and a dynamic marking. Sometimes there are additional specified pitches, voicings or tonal centres. The second type of graphic notation in the piece is a schematic that comes towards the end - a series of words in squares, joined by lines. It's essentially a "choose-your-own-adventure" approach to improvising, going through the schematic at one's own pace and in one's own direction. For all these reasons, my approach to improvising through this piece was less based on listening to everyone else and more on focusing on the directions given by Matana, both in the score and through conducting. So while I wasn't really aware of what everyone was doing individually, I will say that collectively there were some brilliant moments; that the entire piece had this level of intensity and drive; and that Matana sounded as strong, if not stronger, than I have heard her before.
The sound of the piece - with 6 instrumentalists and 2 vocalists transforming fragments of songs deeply entrenched in the African-American experience - is like that of a flashback sequence in a movie, with various memories colliding together in succession. Matana also brings in Fannie Lou Hamer's speech from the 1964 DNC towards the end of the piece (this time accompanied by a passing train from the nearby rail yard), an old traditional blues, and probably some other stuff that I missed. But because all that is happening is rooted in the blues and in spirituals, it's somewhat easier to follow the thread of the piece throughout the hour. I remember, as a listener a couple of years back, being able to catch snippets of the spirituals coming in and out.
In rehearsal, Matana said something that struck a chord in me: "This piece has a lot of bluesy sounds that normally I shy away from, because I feel like somehow they're expected of me." That prompts a lot of thoughts for me - as a white, Canadian, school-educated musician, I don't really feel like there are any musical or artistic expectations of me. I can't imagine what the burden of those kinds of presumptions feel like when one is trying to create (the same way many European musicians are automatically assumed to not swing or have a distant relationship with the blues). It also reminds me how powerful sound can be, and that many sounds are fraught with associations and links that we may not even be cognizant of.