Context, Symphony No. 1

November 16th, 2011

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Movement I, Realization – 12:05

There comes a time in a our lives when we absolutely have to accept the fact that the universe is bigger than we are. We have to realize that we are suspended between the two infinities of complexity and immensity. This movement represents our struggle when we are beginning to see this but are reluctant to accept its implications; that we are very small. We as individuals are selfish beings that want to be declared significant in one way or another. When this attitude is taken to an extreme, we have difficulty accepting the fact that there is a world outside of ourselves. An incredible amount of stress results because we now have to overcome our context in order for the world around us to reflect our belief. If we as individuals are successful in ruling our immediate context, our surroundings simply become larger. We are never satisfied because we naturally seek to become more significant than we currently are. Eventually frustration results when we realize that our happiness cannot come from our own significance since no matter how much we accomplish for ourselves, we remain dissatisfied and unhappy. Therefore, our pursuit of contentment lies outside of ourselves, but so long as we are unwilling to admit that we are not bigger than the universe we will not be content.

Movement II, Rejection – 7:55

We as individuals often refuse to let ourselves believe that we are not the most important thing in the universe. Since we must be wrong (only one person can be the most important) anger and frustration surface while we attempt to make ourselves more important so that reality conforms to our belief. Since we are finite human beings that are attempting to overcome an infinite obstacle we eventually wear ourselves out due to the fact that our power has limits. This movement depicts the our constant attempts to be declared significant in our context. As we fight our way towards contentment and happiness, the world around us continues to become bigger. Finally we are completely spent and have lost the ability to go any further. We must seek a new direction or continue to suffer until we die.

Movement III, Submission – 12:45

In this movement, constant attempts to be declared significant has forced our perception of the universe to be so vast that we feel as though we have been swallowed up by its immensity. We have realized that the only way to survive is to stop trying to overcome our context, but this leaves us in complete despair. We slowly realize that the only way to find contentment is not to overcome our surroundings, but to become an irreplaceable component of them. We finally find contentment when we put ourselves in context with the universe. This gives us both infinite significance and infinite insignificance simultaneously.

Movement IV, Perseverance – 12:35

A compromise has been reached making it possible for us to be content. However it is very easy to fall back into the human tendency of selfishness. In fact, it is so easy that it seems as though we are not capable of maintaining or even truly developing a mentality of selflessness without outside help from a Being greater than ourselves. In order to truly find our place in the universe we must become dependent upon a being that is capable of complete humility. We soon realize that this being is throughout the entire universe, in every human component of the universe that is submissive, and that He is a relational being who wants us to know Him. Understanding this even at the most basic level gives us unspeakable joy and forces us to fall down in worship of this eternal and infinitely significant Being. We have found our context in our Creator and have become a part of His existence, and once we submit and become part of this context which envelopes us, we have infinite and eternal happiness that will never be compromised.


Context truly is a symphony by definition due to the fact that it follows the classic form of the symphony quite closely. The term symphony is often used flippantly, but in this case I intend it to mean what it has always meant: a large work for a large ensemble that shows what the composer was capable of at that point in his life. Since this project fits into this category and was designed to do so, the listener must know a few things about how to listen to a work of such magnitude.

Usually when we listen to music we don’t expect one musical idea to last more than five to ten minutes. In popular culture three to four minutes is all a person’s attention span can take. This work on the other hand takes forty-five minutes to listen to and must be understood as a whole in order to get the most out of the listening experience. Throughout this work, there are two motives that are used excessively, which is why you may notice that even when the music seems chaotic you can still understand it. This tends to happen at the subconscious level, but when studied and analyzed you will find that it makes perfect sense for your mind to keep being drawn into music. Using this motivic material and developing it further makes it possible to unify even hours of music into one coherent idea without losing the interest of the listener. The listener should therefore not only listen to the sounds themselves as they come in and out of perception, but as they get to know the piece better should concentrate on perceiving the entire work on the massive level in which it exists. Only when the medium of time is eliminated completely can this piece or any piece for that matter be enjoyed up to its potential.

The sounds that I have developed is a topic that I hope musical critiques will deeply address someday. I have taken the new technology from Logic Pro 8’s Sculpture and have used it exclusively for this project. Outside of the percussion every sound has been engineered from scratch using Sculpture and done without previous outside training in sound engineering. This is to the credit of Logic’s developers at Apple. The software is so intuitive and straight forward that composers of electronic music no longer have to know anything about programing in order to successfully achieve good sounds. I hope that my use of this technology will inspire more musicians to create with this technology and to keep music moving forward into a new and unexplored frontier.

Thank you to my friends, family, and teachers for your continued love and support. Without all of you my work would not be possible.


November 4th, 2011

This sample is taken from my album, Prelude. Click here  for more information.

Download score, parts, and solo part (PDF) ($129.99). (Includes 8.5×11 and 11×17 versions of the score as well as a complimentary piano reduction.)
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Purchase piano reduction, solo part, and accompaniment mp3 ($16.49)

Sample accompaniment mp3

Sample scores

Sample piano reduction

Duration: 21:00

Performance notes: This Concerto features an extremely difficult saxophone part utilizing the saxophone’s countless timbres, agility, and altissimo register. The performer must have a particularly acute sense of rhythmic precision and strong upper range; like any other concerto in history the soloist must be an extremely accomplished musician. There are also special effects that are particular to the woodwind family including multi-phonics, growling, pitch bends, portamenti, and quarter tone trills.

If the performer generally has a dark sound, the soloist will be overpowered, particularly in the second movement. This can compensated for by the performer using a brighter timbre during these densely scored sections, performing in a brighter hall, telling the band to switch to one on a part, or by artificial amplification. Be sure to consult a sound engineer on how to amplify the soloist if you choose this solution.

Musical interpretation: The title of this work has two meanings. In one sense it is the representation of life in general going through change. In order to settle upon a contented state, one must not fight the changes they go through in life but rather change their attitude towards their new surroundings. It is not our circumstances that make us happy, but our attitude towards our surroundings that governs how we feel. After all, a person can have everything in the world going their way and still be unhappy. I have attempted to capture this concept with this work. My suggestion to see this in the music is to think of the saxophone as a person seeking contentment and the band as the person’s environment (I hope you now see why I have chosen to not thin the orchestration).

On the other hand, this work is a perfect representation of how I have viewed life throughout the year of June 2007 through June 2008. I listen to this work and remember days and times that I assign to certain sections of the piece, some of which are documented in my journal. I will obviously not go into depth about this, but I will leave this by saying that I learned a lot that year.

In a sense you can say that this piece is about growing up; the attitudes of a person before they start to mature, the pain that is required to mature, and then finally looking at the world through eyes that are seeking deeper understanding. In any case, the work represents a person painfully transitioning into a new and better outlook on life.

Timpani and Piano – Application

November 4th, 2011

In this timpani and piano duet the timpani player is required to play quickly and quietly, change the tuning of the timpani while playing, and listen carefully through the sound of the timpani to hear the piano’s pulse. This piece can be quite difficult to play at the prescribed tempo, but it still sounds great when it is played slower than marked. Doing this can make it easier on both the timpani player and even some audiences. A danger to watch for is that the piano can be easily overpowered by the timpani in dark or very wet halls. Be sure to take the necessary precautions to make sure the piano is always heard clearly. This can be achieved by performing in a bright or less resonate hall, using a brighter piano such as a Yamaha, or by slightly muffling the timpani as a last resort. Artificial amplification might work, but the placement of the sound source for the piano has to be in a location that enables it to mix with the sound of the timpani on the stage.

Download score (PDF) ($5.99)
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Preview Score

My friend, Amy, premiered this timpani and piano duet with the man she eventually married at the University of Illinois during her undergrad senior recital. She is an extremely talented performer and a passionate music educator. She asked me to write this piece specifically for her recital, and I accepted with eventual enthusiasm. I took the assignment as an opportunity to test my abilities after writing Transition and The Dark Process as well as to get my foot in the door for graduate school at the university; not to mention doing a favor for an old friend. After it was premiered I spoke with the department chair of percussion, and he said that he would put a good word in for me in the composition department. I have since been rejected for graduate studies at the University of Illinois and have finished a master’s at Michigan State University.

Below is an actual performance of the timpani and piano duet. Not the best recording, but it is a fantastic performance and will give you an idea of what it would be like to actually play it.

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