The Grey-Faced Lady

In concert May 11, 2022

What started as a petit solo piano piece (with some admittedly Debussy-inspired, if not stolen, characteristics) flourished into a small chamber piece during my studies with Dr. Michael Gilbertson.  I had the thought for this piece in spring of 2021, and spent the year since adding to its chapters. 


The Grey-Faced Lady

The original “grey-faced lady” is a deer local to my apartment complex.  Though I wish I could take credit for coming up with such a magical name, my mother (who is undoubtedly among the most whimsical people on the planet) bestowed the storybook-esque title on her some years ago, and The Grey-Faced Lady is now a Thanos household name.   

We’ve seen her on and off for about seven years, and in such time we wondered if we were truly seeing the same deer, or if this coloring was a particularly strong genetic trait in the ever-expanding deer family tree in our area.  In our subsequent research, we discovered deer can live near to the age of twenty, so we suspect that she is truly the same one.   I caught these photos in 2018, and still see her from time to time!


There are two main themes to depict The Grey-Faced Lady: one as Spirit, and another as Omen.  Since my mom believes this creature to be the closest one we can interact with from Peter S. Beagle's unicorn short stories, then I have to believe that somewhere else in the deer's vicinity is someone who holds beliefs contrary to my mom's on every level.  

I suspect there's an embittered person (possibly elderly) who believes this deer to be a wicked thing: a skull-like face caught in fleeting glances (as is most often the case when catching sight of deer), belonging to a creature long known for burgling gardens of their most prized flowers. 

The duality of these themes is not so chocolate-and-cheese as it is oil-and-water; they don't belong together, and to that end they never meet, but they do occupy a similar place in the sonic palate. 

As spirit:

As omen:

Effectively, the themes are different perspectives of the deer. Even as Omen, the deer remains spritely and wise, and never truly succumbs to the equally unfair and imagined label. 


The episodes which carry no central thematic material oscillate between narration and speculation about her day-to-day inclinations. The piece meanders because I assume she meanders (though I'd be gladly shocked to find out one day that she maintains a dedicated and timely routine). 

In the episodes, there are colors of misty forests on misty mountains and long-forgotten trees within them.  There's a whimsical part of me that still wonders where The Grey-Faced Lady truly goes when she disappears into the hills with her daughters in tow. (Oh, to be a doe that lies in a forest unknown to those you don't wish to see.)

The first episode at measure 8 is more or less an exposition of her character, while the episode at m. 29 is assuredly an adventure of sorts. The same can be said for m. 49–perhaps some intentional burgling of some flowers from an exasperated amateur gardener, or perhaps just enjoying a space only she and her woodland compatriots know–while the other episodes are various external perceptions of the doe. 

The Grey-Faced Lady with (what we believe to be) her daughter and grand-deer! (c. January 2018)

Other Thoughts

I loved seeing all of the deer when I first moved to this apartment some fifteen years ago.  Quickly, I realized that their stereotype of graceful, beautiful woodland creatures was (at least in this area) more myth than truth.  These clumsy, obnoxious deer would stamp along the grounds below our window, ambling from sidewalk to road with no sense of urgency, wandering toward cars and not particularly bothered by traffic or anyone else's hurry.

In all honesty, they're fairly dim.

But I must make an exception for The Grey-Faced Lady.  When she walks, even on paved streets, I hardly hear it; she moves unlike the rest of her heavy-hooved comrades. I don't know if it's a facet of age–and if it's age, whether it's the aching joints that soften her step–or if it's years spent practicing light-footed trots.  Who knows; maybe she is a wispy, magical creature of the forest that was here long before the sea of apartment complexes washed over our hills, who will endure to a time , as Peter S. Beagle would say, "when [humans] are fairy tales in books written by rabbits."