Trial by Spitfire: NOT Writing for Percussion

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I have two performances fast approaching (at SERTEC & NERTEC) that will hopefully fool audiences full of tuba & euphonium players into thinking I actually know how to write for euphonium. This might sound a little silly and self-deprecating, but there is a nugget of truth in there. Any time I write for an instrument that is NOT one of the percussive persuasion, there is the fear that I am simply pulling the wool over the audience's eyes.

This all started with my very first commission – a duet for oboe and vibraphone composed for Amy Anderson and Lisa Rogers, the oboe and percussion professors from Texas Tech University. Lisa was familiar with my percussion works having conducted Limerick Daydreams & Sizzle, but Amy was certainly taking a chance on my oboe-writing skills. One of their first performances of the piece took place at the International Double Reed Society Conference (a.k.a. the lion's den).

Several other non-percussion ventures have occurred since then (flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, wind ensemble, orchestra) and I always feel a little bit lucky when these ventures are successful. However, most of these performances are not in front of such concentrated audiences, especially not with me on display stage.

Today, I return to the lion's den – this time, the Southeast Regional Tuba & Euphonium Conference at the University of North Florida – with the comfort of euphonium player Brian Meixner by my side. We will perform Coming Home for euphonium and piano as well as the world premiere of my newest work Spitfire for euphonium and marimba/vibraphone. Let's just hope that no fruit-throwing ensues.

Halcyon Days for Solo Marimba & Percussion Quartet

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During my one-semester sabbatical replacement stint at the University of Oklahoma, I met percussionist Josh Knight, who was working on his DMA. Toward the end of the semester, he and I started discussing the possibility of a commission. Once we settled on the instrumentation, we decided that it would be fun to involve several others in the commissioning process, so it quickly evolved into a consortium of 23 percussionists and professors from 16 different states.

I had been wanting to write a piece for solo marimba and percussion quartet since playing pieces like Minoru Miki's "Marimba Spiritual," Michael Burritt's "Shadow Chasers" and Lynn Glassock's "Off Axis" in my formative years as a performer. The pressure of composing for a fairly well-established genre combined with writing to please 23 other percussionists started to get to me before I put pen to paper.

Every composer/writer/artist type has his/her own creative process. After a seemingly never-ending spell of writer's block 2 years ago, I wrote an entry about climbing out of the dark compositional abyss as I finally sorted out the first movement of my vibraphone concerto. Fortunately, I've been able to sidestep those problems since then by writing more regularly and modifying/streamlining my process. In this case, I stumbled across the phrase "halcyon days," which refers to a period of peace and tranquility, in a book I was reading and was delighted to discover its Greek mythological origins. The story of Alycone & Ceyx is rooted in love, death, sacrifice and, as in all stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses, transformation (as illustrated in the painting above with Alcyone changing into a kingfisher). 

Here's a recording electronically generated by sounds available in the Virtual Drumline 2.5 library. Feel free to click on the blue line below the sound wave to make comments about specific moments in the music on SoundCloud.com.

Halcyon Days for solo marimba & percussion quartet by Nathan Daughtrey

"Halcyon Days" received its world premiere on November 17, 2011 at California State University-Long Beach (Dr. Dave Gerhart) with Andrew McAfee as the marimba soloist. It will be available for sale to the rest of the world in the summer of 2012 from C. Alan Publications.

Flute & Marimba: An Extraordinary Correspondence

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The flute and the marimba have a fairly short yet rich history. However, it wasn't until I was commissioned to write a piece for the combination a year ago that I started exploring it more in depth. Not having performed any flute/marimba duets, I was delighted to find some wonderful pieces for the combination (see the lists below). Additionally, more and more performance duos have been popping up in recent years, helping to expand the repertoire. I encourage you to check out the plethora of recordings from some of the pioneers in the genre by Googling some of the names of performers in the list below.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity when Rick and Jenn Elliott contacted me about a commission for flute and marimba. I had already written pieces for clarinet/marimba, oboe/vibraphone and alto saxophone/marimba.  Those reedy wind instruments blend extremely well with the mellow woodiness of the marimba. Honestly, you don't have to work that hard to make them sound good together. When preparing to write for flute and marimba, I listened carefully to the qualities of the different registers of both instruments and how I might play them off one another. I recall falling in love with the lower register of the flute (lower half of the treble clef staff) and finding ways to have that rich, breathy sound emerge out of the marimba playing in the same register. In fact, this is how the piece opens.

The title of the duet, An Extraordinary Correspondence, comes from the subtitle to the book "Griffin & Sabine" by Nick Bantock. This groundbreaking book appeals to our (taboo) voyeuristic desires to read the mail of others. The story follows two people who have never met that start writing to one another because Sabine shares Griffin's "sight." He's an artist and she can see what he draws and paints as it is happening. As their relationship unfolds, they quickly find that they are actually living in parallel worlds. I followed the arc of the story pretty closely, having the marimbist play the role of Griffin and the flutist play the role of Sabine. 

Listen

Rick and Jenn Elliott will perform the world premiere of "An Extraordinary Correspondence" on August 7, 2011 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hamilton, OH. The piece will be published C. Alan Publications and available to the rest of the world in June of 2012.

Resource Lists

Works for Flute & Marimba
1958: Tanner, Peter - Diversions for Flute & Marimba
1977: Wilder, Alec - Suite for Flute & Marimba
1984: Klatzow, Peter - Figures in a Landscape
1997: Farr, Gareth - Kembang Suling
1997: Tanabe, Tsuneya - Recollections of the Inland Sea
2001: Gillingham, David - Five Fantasies of Natural Origin
2002: Hasenpflug, Thom - 5 Mornings for Flute and Marimba

Works for Flute & Percussion
1958: Wilder, Alec - Suite for Flute & Bongos Nos. 1 & 2
1964: Harrison, Lou - Concerto #1
1966: Dahl, Ingolf - Duettino for Flute & Percussion
1974-80: Adams, John Luther - Songbirdsongs
1994: Parker, Philip - Beneath the Canopy

Flute & Percussion Performance Duos
Armstrong Duo (Eleanor Armstrong, flute & Dan Armstrong, percussion)
McCormick Duo (Kim McCormick, flute & Bob McCormick, percussion)
Tambous Duo (Holly Stackhouse, flute & Theodore Frazeur, percussion)
Verederos Duo (Jessica Johnson, flute & Payton MacDonald, percussion)
Marc Grauwels & Sarah Mouradoglou
Michael Haldeman & John Samuel Roper
Richard & Jennifer Elliott

Bibliography & discography of works for flute and percussion compiled by flutist Larry Krantz:
http://www.larrykrantz.com/fltperc.htm

Topsy Turvy for Young Percussion Ensemble

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While living in Houston a few years ago, I started developing a new series for C. Alan Publications that would feature percussion ensemble pieces for younger groups with flexible duration, instrumentation and number of players. The Ignite Series for the Developing Ensemble will finally be coming to fruition this spring/summer with a fresh collection of pieces by C. Alan composers, including Josh Gottry, Mario Gaetano, Adam Miller, Kandis Taylor, Scott Harding, Donna Bohn and myself.

My first contribution, titled Topsy Turvy, is meant to conjure up the magical sights and sounds under the big top of the circus. The piece features very flexible instrumentation and also provides the opportunity to 1 or 2 students to be in the spotlight playing percussion "toys," such as siren whistle, slide whistle, slapstick, duck call, ratchet, vibraslap, flexatone, brake drums, or cowbells. It is playabale by as few as 6 players or as many as 14.

Topsy Turvy will receive its world premiere on May 10, 2011 by the Braxton Craven Middle School Percussion Ensemble, directed by Chris Ferguson and Lindsey Eskins.

Look Inside
Topsy Turvy Score

Listen

Instrumentation
Bells & Toys (double with Vibraphone)
Xylophone & Toys (double with Marimba)
Optional Vibraphone
Optional Marimba
Timpani (2 drums)
Snare Drum & Woodblock (double with Bongos)
2 Concert Toms & Suspended Cymbal (double with Temple Blocks)
Bass Drum & Acme Police Whistle (double with Low Tom)
Optional Toys (extracted from other players' parts) 

More information...

Listen Hear: "Ellipsis" performed by the OU Percussion Ensemble

During my brief stint in Houston, TX from September 2007 through March 2009 I met some great lifetime friends, tasted some fantastic food and had the opportunity to work with some of the best middle and high school percussion ensembles in the country. I adjudicated a few percussion ensemble festivals and witnessed several middle school ensembles performing pretty advanced literature for their age. Just before I moved away, the middle schools of the Spring Independent School District (just outside Houston, TX) commissioned me to write a piece for them. I Gladly accepted, but knew that I couldn't approach the piece as I would a typical middle school composition, so I wrote as if writing for a high school. The result was a piece that has been picked up and performed by high schools and colleges all over the country.

Here is a recording of the University of Oklahoma Percussion Ensemble (made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores) directed by Josh Knight.

Listen

"Ellipsis" is published by C. Alan Publications and available for purchase from Steve Weiss Music.

Listen Hear: "Imagining World" performed by the UNT Symphonic Band

Every now and then Dennis Fisher, conductor of the University of North Texas Symphonic Band, graciously agrees to do some demo recordings and occasionally I'm lucky enough for one of my pieces to be included. While in Chicago for the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic this past week, Dennis presented me with a recording of my newest band work Imagining World, which was commissioned by the Oswego High School Band, directed by Stephanie Silosky. Because of this new UNT recording, I was able to share it with another band director at the conference, which is likely going to result in a performance in March. So, a big thanks to Dennis Fisher and the UNT Symphonic Band!

Listen

"Imagining World" is published by C. Alan Publications and available from J.W Pepper.

Listen Hear: "Spun" performed by the Penn State Percussion Ensemble

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I've talked about Spun fairly recently on here, so I won't bore you with too many details. This recording is from the premiere at Penn State University, where Dan Armstrong is the percussion professor and the one responsible for the piece coming to fruition. At the final dress rehearsal, just an hour before the concert, Dan asked me if I'd like to conduct the piece on the concert. Wearing only the upper half of a suit with jeans on the lower half (you know... going for that cool-down-to-earth-composer-in-the-audience-graciously-accepting-applause look), I was hesitant and hummed & hawed. But after a quick drive back to the hotel trading out the jeans for suit pants, I was ready. In reality, I was just scared to conduct the quick-changing multi-meter stuff I had written. So, any inaccuracies can be traced back to me hacking my way through "conducting" this world premiere.

Listen

"Spun" is published by C. Alan Publications and available from Steve Weiss Music.

Listen Hear: " The Cry" performed by the OU Percussion Orchestra

I feel like Christmas has come early! In the past week, I've been fortunate enough to receive 4 fantastic recordings of my newest pieces – 2 for percussion ensemble and 2 for concert band. I'll be sharing them each in their own entry over the next week.

The first I'll share is The Cry, which was commissioned and premiered by the OU Percussion Orchestra. I had the opportunity to fly out to Norman, OK to work with Lance Drege and his ensemble for a few days back in November (2010) and had a blast. This recording is the result of a session during an afternoon rehearsal the day of the concert.

Listen

"The Cry" will be published by the OU Percussion Press and available from Steve Weiss Music.

Spun... cart before the horse?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my recently finished commission for the OU Percussion Orchestra, The Cry. Even before I was commissioned to write the piece, I was sitting on the poem by Federico García Lorca on which it is based, thinking it would make the perfect backdrop for a composition. It helped immensely with the organization of the musical form, as well as the harmonic language I would end up using.

Such was not the case with the percussion ensemble commission I just finished on Sunday night, titled Spun. In fact, the piece didn't even have a title until I was about 50 measures from completion (out of 322). Instead of starting with some sort of extramusical source of inspiration (such as a poem, painting, book, etc.), I began with a melodic motif (D, A, Bb, F#, C, Eb) with turned into the pitch material for the entire piece. The first 59 measures utilize only pitches from this set before exploring other chromatic key areas. As the piece progresses, the rules set forth are quickly broken and the theme expands, becomes the accompaniment, acts as the root for the chord progression, but it is always moving forward. 

The title Spun is derived from the term Fortspinnung ("spun out" or "spinning forth"), which was a term employed by Wilhelm Fischer (1915) to describe the developmental, often sequential middle part of the ritornello in Baroque music. The composer would take a short musical idea or motif and spin it out into an entire phrase or period. It may be used to expand the pace or accelerate the pace of the piece. 

Okay, I've probably bored you to tears by now, but I assure you that the piece is not boring. Take a listen for yourself...


Spun Recording

Spun was commissioned by Dan C. Armstrong and the Penn State Mallet Ensemble and will receive its premiere on November 30, 2010 at Penn State University.

The Cry: An Andalusian Fantasy for Percussion Orchestra

Back in 2007, shortly after the OU Percussion Orchestra performed Limerick Daydreams, Lance Drege and I started talking about a commission for the OU Percussion Press – the same commissioning series that has produced such staples in the repertoire as Maslanka's "Crown of Thorns" and Ewazen's "Palace of Nine Perfections." I already had the seed of an idea for a new piece based on Federico García Lorca's poem "Poema de la Seguiriya Gitana." With other commission projects already underway (like my Concerto for Vibraphone), it took a while for this one to finally take shape. There's nothing quite like a world premiere and recording project to help move things along.

Lorca's poem has a great arc to it, giving way to an overall slow-fast-slow form for the piece. The work divides into 5 primary sections: 

Paisaje ("Landscape")
La Guitarra ("The Guitar")
El Grito ("The Cry")
Un Silencio Ondulado ("A Rolling Silence")
Tierra de Luz, Cielo de Tierra ("Earth of Light, Sky of Earth") 

Lorca was extremely interested in the Spanish gypsy music known as Cante Jondo (or "Deep Song"), which is the purist and most natural precursor to Flamenco music. It is filled with passionate melismatic singing and sparse guitar playing. Great care has been taken to differentiate between the more popular Flamenco form and Cante Jondo, always emphasizing that the latter is the purer and more serious of the two forms.

It is this struggle that is at the heart of "The Cry." The virtuosic melismatic singing is emulated throughout the ensemble in long flourishes that are full of twists and turns. The antiphonal castanet players help bring in the flamenco elements to the piece, as well as the sounds of flamenco dancers tapping, stomping and clapping in rhythm. Most important in composing this piece was that the beautiful words of García Lorca and the form of his poem are represented.

Look Inside

The Cry Score

Listen


The Cry

"The Cry" will receive its premiere at the University of Oklahoma by the OU Percussion Orchestra, directed by Dr. Lance Drege, on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in Sharp Concert Hall. It will likely be webcast, so stay tuned!

Encantada: A New Solo for Vibraphone

It seems that nowadays I just don't have much time to write pieces that I want to write. I have an ever-growing list of composition projects that I would love to work on (several solo marimba pieces, a slew of band pieces, and so on), but these pesky commissions keep getting in the way. I have several composer friends (and writer friend for that matter) that only write on commission and never write anything for themselves, so I really shouldn't complain. It is a really good position to be in. Every now and then, though, it is nice to break out on my own and write something for which I am not getting paid... even if it is just a short, pretty little vibraphone solo.

Encantada (meaning "enchanted" in Spanish) might be considered the child of my new Concerto for Vibraphone. The harmonic material in the opening bars of the solo are taken from the 1st movement of the concerto while the title of the piece is taken from the 2nd movement, "Enchanted Light' (or "La Luz Encantada"). As I mentioned in an earlier post about the concerto, much of the repertoire for vibraphone is jazz-influenced because of the instrument's history (see Lionel Hampton & Milt Jackson for examples). This definitely extends to the solo repertoire, so I sought to create more of a concert piece. This was the result:

Look inside

Encantada

listen


Encantada

The piece will be available from C. Alan Publications and all of your favorite music dealers (i.e. Steve Weiss Music & Lone Star Percussion) this summer.

Misadventure #2: Trip to Oswego, IL

ND with OHS director Stephanie SiloskyWhen I initially started this blog, I had every intention of using it to share various stories of my adventures (and misadventures) while traveling to and from gigs all over the country. As you might gather from the number in the title of this post, I have not stayed true to my blog mission. The first "misadventure," titled Lip-Syncing for Percussionists 101 was posted back in mid-December 2008. Yeesh. So, a year & a half later, here ya go... Misadventure #2.

I'm in Oswego, IL – a village of 29,000 people just an hour drive from Chicago – where my new piece Imagining World is being premiered tonight by the Oswego High School Wind Ensemble, directed by Stephanie Silosky. Fortunately, the misadventures on the trip do not at all involve the performing group. This band is really fantastic and are playing the heck out of all the music on their program. No, my misadventures are the result of several moments of absent-mindedness on my part, starting with my travel day yesterday.

1) On the other two parts of my trip (Norman, OK and Pittsburgh, PA) I'll be performing David Gillingham's 2nd marimba concerto which requires the soloist to play with two contrabass bows, so I brought mine with me in a cardboard tube a little longer than 1 yard. For each leg of my various flights, I'm throwing the tube in the overhead bin. After checking in for my flight at RDU, I was almost to the security checkpoint when I realized that I was missing an item. Yep, the tube was leaning against the ticket counter waiting for me.

2) Arrived in Philly where I had a short layover, but was going to be on the same plane. I assumed that I would re-board this plane at the same gate. I went and used the facilities, got back to the gate and realized I had once again left the tube behind, this time at the gate. 

3) I was just sitting there at the gate, which was eerily empty except for the gate attendant. I asked when we would be boarding for Chicago. He asked "You mean for Boston?" Nope. Chicago. Just got off the plane and they told me we would be re-boarding here. He informed me that they were boarding that flight several gates down around the corner and they were doing so now. Nearly missed my second flight altogether.

4) Arrived in Chicago where my mind was immediately on going to pick up my rental car. Waited 20 minutes for the shuttle to take me to Thrifty. We were heading out of the airport when horror came over me. Here's generally how that conversation went:

Me [frantically]: Can you please let me off?!
Driver: Yes, of course. What's the problem?
Me: I left my suitcase behind.
Driver: Where, on the sidewalk outside the shuttle?
Me: Nope, I never picked it up from baggage claim! 

The suitcase was sitting there smiling at me at the USAir baggage office in Terminal 2.

5) Finally, this morning I was thinking ahead to tomorrow when I'll be flying from Chicago to Oklahoma City. Checked online to see which terminal I needed to go to at O'Hare for Frontier Airlines. Not found. But there are some Frontier gates at Midway Airport. Yeah, that's right. I got a rental car from O'Hare that also need to be returned to O'Hare without realizing that I was flying out of Midway. Fortunately, Thrifty is letting me return the car to Midway with no penalty fee.

That's all for now. I'm hoping tomorrow is a smoother day of travel. For now, the tube is with me, I have a place to take the rental car, and I have many people I'm looking forward to seeing and hanging out with in Oklahoma over the weekend. 

Imagining World: Remembrance vs. Celebration

A carefree wave of relief and relaxation has at last washed over me after completing my latest commission, Imagining World, a Grade IV wind ensemble work for Oswego High School in Illinois. This one created an interesting challenge in that it was meant to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the OHS band program while simultaneously memorializing a former student who had passed away. I stumbled upon a short poem that poignantly reconciled these two seemingly contrasting ideas.

Imagining World by Brian Andreas
In my dream, the angel shrugged & said,
if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination
& then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.

I love the idea of our loved ones returning as angels to watch over us in our dreams and encouraging imagination as we look toward the future. Having lost my mother a couple of years ago, I like to think that she is keeping tabs on me. In order to grow, looking to & planning for the future is a pivotal part of looking back & celebrating the past. 

Much of the thematic material for the piece is derived from the final melodic phrase of the OHS school song (also the Notre Dame Victory March). The work opens with the sparkling (& dreamy) qualities of wind chimes and metallic keyboard percussion presenting fragments of this melodic material, the "Oswego" theme, which appears throughout the piece in several forms. A trumpet and horn fanfare follows leading to a full ensemble climax before moving into the main body of the piece. Directly following the climax is the first statement of the "Dream" theme played by solo flute. It undergoes several transformations & moods and intermingles with the "Oswego" theme as the piece progresses. Imagining World strikes a delicate balance between reflection and celebration – a challenge that we must all embrace.

Listen to a recording here...


Imagining World (MIDI realization)

Imagining World will receive its premiere on May 20, 2010 by the Oswego High School Wind Ensemble, Stephanie Silosky conducting, with the composer in attendance.

About Beth Sharp...
Elizabeth May Sharp, the oldest of five children who all participated in the Oswego band program, was a piano player first, a clarinet player second, having started in fifth grade band under the direction of Margene Pappas, and a doctor finally.  Her vocation was that of medicine and her avocation that of music.  Beth went through the band program in Oswego IL and while in high school band, under the direction of James Felts, she attended IMEA All-State her junior and senior year on Eb Contra Alto Clarinet.  She studied privately with Margene Pappas until she graduated from high school.  She also had the opportunity to travel abroad after her senior year in high school performing in band.  She attended the University of Illinois and played bass clarinet in the top Symphonic Band under the direction of Harry Begian from her freshman to her senior year in college. 

When Beth went to Texas to study medicine she continued to play in community bands and orchestras as she loved MUSIC.  Beth's life was cut short when she contracted a disease that led to her death.  Her friends and family, shocked by her courage to fight the disease alone until the last few months of her life (Beth was a fighter!), established a scholarship in her name to be given to the most outstanding boy and girl musician from the Oswego High School Band.  The award recipients were chosen by the band director and were expected to be outstanding musicians, keep their academic standards high, and have the motivation to continue their musical participation in college and beyond either as a music major or by participating in college and community ensembles.  The scholarship was a $500 award and given each year until 2006, the year in which Margene Pappas retired from the band program in Oswego.  The remaining money, having lost ground from the original investment due to a faltering economy was intended to be used to foster commissions for band for the Oswego High School band program.