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Length: c. 9 minutes

About this Piece

The word zeher means poison in Hindi. At the time I was working on this piece, I developed a pernicious case of strep throat that three separate sets of antibiotics, over more than a month, couldn’t seem to cure. It became increasingly difficult for me to swallow, to speak, and even at times to breathe. It was through this frustration, defeat, and feeling of complete and literal voicelessness that I wrote Zeher.

This piece uses two raags—Todi and Bhimpalas. Todi, at least to my Western ears, sounds dark and sinuous, as if reaching into a void, beyond what can be can comfortably seen or understood. Bhimpalas, to me, feels more centered and stable, if still melancholy. At the end of the piece, the Todi melodies in the cello are slowly washed over by the violins in Bhimpalas, lulling it slowly as it heals.

There is no way I could have known that the premiere album of this work, Brooklyn Rider’s Healing Modes, would be released in March 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic—where we would be forced to confront a world where a virus would render so many people unable to breathe—and that the piece would take on a new meaning, a more urgent call for healing. —Reena Esmail