Bass Clarinet and Marimba – Underneath the Spreading Tree

November 8th, 2011

This bass clarinet and marimba duet, while being very difficult, is full of wonderfully rich sounds and textures that you can not produce with any other combination of instruments. I partly regret my choice of instrumentation and may rewrite it for something more practical someday, but my reason for the choice is because of a phrase in Isaiah 55:12, “…all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” This personification stirred my creative curiosity on the brink of obsession, and I could not get the combination of bass clarinet and marimba out of my head. They are the perfect two instruments to depict the sound of living trees rejoicing over redeemed Israel and I couldn’t rest until I’d used them together for the purpose. However, a story is pointless if you only share the ending without saying how it came about. Using the perspective of the trees in the land I’ve written this work to tell the story of Israel’s fall into paganism, God’s judgement on them, and then finally their redemption. To listen to this work correctly, you must understand that you’re listening to a tree tell a story.

This video is only a sample of the work.

Download score and parts (PDF) ($14.49)
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Sample score

Additional information

Duration: 11:00

Throughout the major prophets in the Old Testament, the term “spreading tree” is used repeatedly in reference to the location in which the nation of Israel conducted their sinful pagan rituals. If one applies the personification of the trees in Isaiah 55 to these texts, it’s not hard to imagine what sorts of sounds God’s trees would make in response to detestable practices being performed underneath them. These practices included various ceremonies to honor false gods, ritualistic sexuality (mass orgies), and child sacrifice; clearly detestable practices in the eyes of God. The beginning of this tree’s story portrays these pagan ceremonies through primitive sounding harmonies and intricate rhythmic dancelike textures. At first these sounds seem innocent, but as the work progresses the harmonies are twisted to depict the darker components of pagan Israel’s worship.

The following are the texts I had in mind while writing this beginning section:

Jeremiah 2:20 (NIV), “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.”

Isaiah 57:5, “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.”

The second section is the tree’s telling of God’s response to Israel’s disobedience. This is depicted by energetic and ominous sounds followed by sounds of intense sorrow. It is the tree’s version of these texts:

Jeremiah 4:13-15, “Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds! His chariots are like whirlwinds. His horses are swifter than eagles. How terrible it will be, for we are doomed! O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart that you may be saved. How long will you harbor your evil thoughts? Your destruction has been announced from Dan and the hill country of Ephraim.”

Jeremiah 13:24-27, “‘I will scatter you like chaff that is blown away by the desert winds. This is your allotment, the portion I have assigned to you,’ says the Lord, ‘for you have forgotten me, putting your trust in false gods. I myself will strip you and expose you to shame. I have seen your adultery and lust, and your disgusting idol worship out in the fields and on the hills. What sorrow awaits you, Jerusalem! How long before you are pure?'”

The final section depicts the tree’s swelling joy at the thought of the future return of God’s people to the land, the original reason I set out to write this work:

Isaiah 55:12,
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”


Transition

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.


Brass Quintet – Waltz of the Savage

November 3rd, 2011

This work was written for a typical collegiate ensemble and is meant to be very standard, fitting in well with other brass quintet repertoire. This work does have its challenges of course, the main difficulty being the fast passages in 7/8 time. Other than this detail there is nothing atypical of a brass quintet piece that would prevent the average collegiate or even advanced high school ensemble from performing it.

The meaning behind the title is pretty straight forward…I am portraying distinguished looking westerners attempting to teach savage foreigners to dance. This is quickly thwarted when all the natives do is take what they learn and apply it to their own form of dance. Comical outcomes quickly surface.

This video is only a sample of the work. Total length is 4:45.

Purchase score and parts (pdf) – $11.49
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Sample Score


Soprano Saxophone and Piano Duet – Hide and Seek

September 6th, 2010

I had a very difficult time finishing soprano saxophone and piano duet. It began as a simple exercise in exploring orchestrational possibilities in jazz chords while applying percussion techniques on the keyboard. Adding a line for the saxophone simply seemed like the thing to do at the time, and it made it possible for me to have a live instrument for the presentation of my final project in the class I wrote it for. So I wrote the first two minutes of this piece with no intent outside of making pretty sounds. But I liked the sounds so much that I felt the need to turn them into a coherent musical exposition. After being stuck on the piece for about six months, I finally decided that the only way I was going to finish it was to make up an ending that worked and polish it until it was good.

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

Download score and parts (pdf) – 7.99
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Sample Score

I don’t have a sense of closure when a piece doesn’t seem to have any meaning outside of itself. So even when I had all but finished the piece I still couldn’t leave it alone because I didn’t understand what it meant. And yet I had already named the piece “Hide and Seek” simply because of the way it sounded. It seemed to be trying to go somewhere profound, but became sad when it couldn’t get there. Then it returned to searching for that profound place, this time without being concerned about the result.

The sound reminded me of my childhood games of hide and seek when I would be entertained by looking for my friends that had hidden from me. It was enjoyable not because I found them, but because I found them through a process of searching for them. But sometimes they would hide so well that I would grow weary of looking for them. But it would then be all the more exciting when I found them. But the purpose of the game wasn’t to find but to seek. So becoming irritated because I couldn’t find my friend was silly since all that should have resulted was enjoying the game longer.

While applying this concept to life itself, and thinking about the music in the context of the Purpose project, I finally realized that this piece is about searching for the purpose of life. Many people (myself included) become frustrated when attempting to work out the reason God put them on the earth. While there is the obvious Sunday school answer of “serving, worshipping, knowing, and glorifying God”, very few people are satisfied with that answer and justifiably so. Knowing and glorifying God is an infinitely broad description of our purpose since God is an infinite being. Saying that really means to do what we were doing all along but for a different reason and maybe throwing in a few religious practices to remind you of that reason. But as dissatisfying as the answer may be, it’s still the correct one. However, I’ve taken it a step further with this piece.

The beauty coupled with tension throughout the first fast section recounts the beauty of life in the midst of seeking the reason for our existence and being disillusioned by the answer we find. This results in a discontentment because without knowing the details of why we were put on this earth we have no idea of what to expect from life. So as we move into the slow section we wonder in vain why we exist and therefore what we should be doing with our lives. But in the midst of this anxiety, we find that beauty remains inherent all around us, even throughout our pain. This brings us to the second fast section in which the sounds that were harsh in the beginning have been reinterpreted and are beautiful. Nothing has changed but our reason for perceiving. We’ve realized that we exist for the sake of seeking the answer to the question of our existence. God put us here to ask questions and seek answers. Since God is throughout all aspects of creation, this ends up meaning that God put us here in order to seek Him. We still haven’t moved beyond the broad Sunday school answer, but this realization has satisfied me and justified my life and work.

Purpose hides and so we seek it. But along the way we find beauty and realize that the purpose of life is the process of searching for it.

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