Video: Legacies (percussion ensemble) at PASIC 2012

Dr. Eric Willie conducts the Tennessee Tech University Percussion Ensemble at the 2012 Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Austin, TX on the New Literature for Percussion Ensemble Session. This is an edited version of Legacies because of time constraints. The duration of the full 10-player piece is approximately eight minutes.

Legacies is available for sale from Steve Weiss Music.

New Video of "Spun" for Keyboard Percussion Octet

The University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra, directed by Dr. Lance Drege, performs Spun for keyboard percussion octet by Nathan Daughtrey. The 8-1/2 minute piece was commissioned by Dan Armstrong in 2010 for the Penn State Mallet Ensemble.

"Spun" is published by C. Alan Publications and is available for purchase through Steve Weiss Music.

Ellipsis at the Eastern Music Festival 7/27/11


Now in its 50th season, the Eastern Music Festival has been acting as a gateway for young classical musicians from all over the world right in my backyard since I came to Greensboro 18 years ago. I even served for one season as the coordinator for the Project:Listen Program, EMF's now defunct outreach arm. 

I'm honored to now have to my piece Ellipsis performed by the EMF Percussion Ensemble during this landmark season.

EMF Percussion Ensemble Concert
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
4:00 p.m.
Dana Auditorium, Guilford College (Greensboro, NC)
General Admission: $9 

Many thanks to John Shaw, principal percussionist with the Florida Orchestra & percussion instructor at St. Peterburg College, and Eric Schweikert, principal timpanist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic & Director of Percussion at EMF for including my music on the program.

Topsy Turvy for Young Percussion Ensemble


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


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...

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


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!

Enchanted Light (Concerto for Vibraphone, Mvt. II)

After months (well... really a couple of years) bleeding inspiration all over my manuscript paper, the Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Ensemble commission is complete! When I finished the first movement, I mentioned some of the inspiration behind the piece, but I'd like to go into a bit more depth here about it.

One of my favorite sources of inspiration for my compositions is poetry – especially that of Pablo Neruda. It's so passionate and filled with vivid imagery that it's just a blast to try and portray his words with music. I knew from the outset that Lisa Rogers (the commissioning party) wanted a 2-movement concerto, so I decided to try and find two poems with opposing themes and stumbled upon Neruda's collection "Ode to Opposites." I chose "Ode to Nighttime" and "Ode to Enchanted Light" which pit night against day.

I. Night's Song

Ode to Nighttime by Pablo Neruda
(I. Night’s Song – “El Canto de la Noche”)

behind every tree and rock,
behind every book,
you rush around working
or you rest,
for your retracted roots
to grow into foliage or flower.
You thrash around the sky
a flag,
you pour yourself into
sierras and seas
and the smallest cavities, too:
the exhausted peasant’s hardened
and the black coral
of people’s mouths
opened wide in sleep.
You run wild
over the savage flow
of rivers,
you penetrate, night, hidden paths
and love’s deep constellations—
tangle of naked bodies—
and crimes that splatter
the shadows with screams.
All the while trains
stay on schedule, stokers
feed night-black coal to red fire.
The overworked accountant
wanders deep in a forest
of petrified papers,
and bakers knead
mounds of whiteness.
Night also sleeps
like a blind horse.
It’s raining all over the country:
on the huge trees
of my homeland
and on roofs
of corrugated metal
night’s song
is heard.
Rain and darkness are the blade
of a singing sword
while stars, or jasmine petals,
from blackened heights:
they are signs
that, little by little,
with time’s slow passage,
we will come to understand.

my nighttime,
night of the whole earth,
you bear something
within you, something round
like a child
about to be born, like a
it’s a miracle,
it’s daylight.
Your beauty is all the greater
because you nourish this budding poppy
with the darkness that flows in your veins,
because you work with your eyes closed
so that other eyes may open
and the water may sing,
so that our lives
might be born again.

For the first movement, Night’s Song, I tried to depict this mysterious, starry night that gradually turns dark and rainy. The phrases that really spoke to me and shaped the music were “behind daylight,” “you thrash around the sky,” “you run wild over the savage flow of rivers,” and rain and darkness are the blade of a singing sword while stars, or jasmine petals, gaze from blackened heights.” I love how Neruda describes daylight as being born nighttime, so I decided to make the movements attacca so that the second movement, Enchanted Light, bursts forth out of the first movement.

II. Enchanted Light

Ode to Enchanted Light by Pablo Neruda
(II. Enchanted Light – “La Luz Encantada”)

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.
A cicada sends its sawing song
high into the empty air.
The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.

The second movement is much more sparkly and bright, depicting the “light dropping from the top of the sky.” The “cicada sending its sawing song high into the empty air” even makes an appearance when the ensemble vibraphone player places pennies on the bars and then bows those bars with optional help from a sizzle cymbal. Motives and themes from the first movement return in several spots throughout the second movement helping to unify the work. The soloist gets a workout as well in the tour-de-force second movement, unlike the much more introspective first movement.

The piece will be performed in its entirety at the International Society for Music Education (ISME) Conference in Beijing, China in August 2010 by the Texas Tech University Percussion Ensemble, directed by Allan Shin, with Dr. Lisa Rogers as the vibraphone soloist. I will be using the first movement on a clinic I'll be giving at the Idaho State University Day of Percussion next weekend.

The piano reduction is complete and wind ensemble and full orchestra versions will be completed by this summer.

Rusalka's Song to the Moon Redux (thanks to an inspired new recording)

In the summer of 2009, Dr. John Parks, Professor of Percussion at Florida State University, contacted me telling me that the FSU Percussion Ensemble had performed my arrangement of Song to the Moon and that they had added a soprano soloist to the mix and it worked beautifully. He also informed me they would be recording the piece with soprano for their forthcoming CD release and asked if I might add some of the introductory material from the original opera scoring, featuring lush low strings and a brief harp cadenza. The FSU Percussion Ensemble CD, titled Volume One, features Song to the Moon with soprano soloist Marcía Porter in addition to works by David Skidmore, John Cage, Blake Tyson, Astor Piazzolla, and more.

Check out the rough cut of FSU's new recording of Song to the Moon:

Song to the Moon
Florida State University Percussion Ensemble
Dr. John Parks, director | Marcía Porter, soprano

Then, be on the lookout for the official release of the CD. I've heard 3 more tracks and the ensemble sounds really fantastic with an assortment of music from some fresh new voices on the scene.

Now for some of the technical information accompanying the new edition that was just released today by C. Alan Publications:

Program Notes

Song to the Moon is an aria from Antonín Dvorák’s opera “Rusalka,” which combines elements from three fairy tales, Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, Friedrich de la Motte Fouque's Undine, and Gerhart Hautpmann's The Sunken Bell. At this moment in the opera, the good-natured old Spirit of the Lake, Jezibab, is enjoying the singing of the Wood Nymphs, when his daughter, Rusalka, approaches him sadly. She tells him that she has fallen in love with a handsome young prince and wishes to become human in order to know the bliss of union with him. Deeply saddened, the Spirit of the Lake consents to her request, and leaves. All alone, Rusalka sings this beautiful aria, confiding in the moon the secrets of her longing.

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night pierce your rays.
This sleeping world you wander by,
Smiling on men's homes and ways.
Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?
Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?
Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping he may
Think of the love that enfolds him,
May between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.
Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!
Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let my memory wakened be.
Moon, moon, oh do not wane, do not wane,
Moon, oh moon, do not wane....

Notes About the New 2nd Edition

  • Return to the original key of G-flat major. Because I had not originally intended for the arrangement to be performed with soprano, I put the piece in G major, transforming it from 6 flats to 1 sharp. By putting it in its original key, there is now the possibility of adding a soprano soloist with this aria in her repertoire.
  • A new 27-bar introduction sets up the aria beautifully.
  • A modified softer ending to better match the original aria.
  • Phrase markings have been added to every part to clarify melodic intentions.
  • Rolls markings in the marimba parts have been clarified throughout.

Ellipsis: a new ... piece for percussion ensemble

A couple of years ago while living in Houston, TX, I adjudicated a percussion ensemble contest at Westfield High School featuring all of the schoosl in the Spring Independent School District, hosted by Jason Hall. I witnessed an inspired middle school performance of my piece Mercury Rising. Jason and I started talking about a possible collaboration at that point and finally a year later it came to fruition. The six middle schools of the Spring ISD (Bailey Middle School, Bammel Middle School, Claughton Middle School, Dueitt Middle School, Twin Creeks Middle School, and Wells Middle School) commissioned me to write a 5-minute piece 7-8 players percussionists that had the same kind of energy as Mercury Rising. I just finished writing the resulting piece, Ellipsis, this past weekend.

Ellipsis: A mark or series of marks (...) that usually indicate an intentional omission of a word or a phrase from the original text. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished thought.

The title is intentionally ambiguous (and honestly just a word that I like). One can glean whatever meaning they like from the piece itself.

Look inside the score

Listen to an electronically generated recording

To learn more about the piece (instrumentation, duration, difficulty level), go to the Ellipsis page.

Video: "Adaptation, Mvt. I" by Nathan Daughtrey (OU Percussion Ensemble)

The University of Oklahoma Percussion Ensemble performs the first movement ("Improvisation") of my piece, Adaptation. Based on my solo piano piece, Episodes, I scored Adaptation for 11 percussionists specifically for the "5:00 Ensemble" at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro while I was there as an adjunct professor of percussion. It won 3rd Place in the 2005 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest, the same year that David Skidmore's Whispers (see my earlier video post) won 1st Place and another piece of mine, Limerick Daydreams, won 2nd Place.

Adaptation is published by C. Alan Publications.

Video: "Aboriginal Dreams" by Roland Barrett (OU Percussion Ensemble)

The University of Oklahoma Percussion Ensemble, directed by Dr. Nathan Daughtrey, performs Roland Barrett's "Aboriginal Dreams." It was commissioned by and premiered by the Mt. Lebanon High School Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Rick Minnotte.

Aboriginal Dreams is published by C. Alan Publications.

Mvt. I

Mvt. II

Mvt. III

Mvts. IV & V

Video: "Whispers" by David Skidmore (OU Percussion Orchestra)

The University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra, directed by Dr. Nathan Daughtrey, performs David Skidmore's Whispers

Whispers was the 1st place winner in the 2005 Percussive Arts Society International Composition Contest. It is published by Keyboard Percussion Publications.

OU Percussion Ensembles Concert: Skidmore, Mackey, Souza, & more...

About 15 years ago, I vividly remember hearing the OU Percussion Orchestra perform at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Atlanta, GA. I was a sophomore in college at UNC-Greensboro and the percussion ensembles from both schools had been selected to perform showcase concerts at the conference. It was my first PASIC and I was so young and naive, but had a blast being 19 & exploring the Atlanta Underground. Nearly 10 years later, the OUPO commissioned 3 monumental new works, including Joseph Blaha’s “The Night Watch,” Raymond Helbles’s “Concertare,” and Eric Ewazen’s ever-popular “Palace of Nine Perfections.” Fantastic.

The point here is that the OU Percussion Orchestra has been on my radar for a long time as pioneers in creating the “percussion orchestra” sound – 10 to 14 players, 4-5 marimbas, 2 vibraphones, glockenspiel(s), crotales, chimes, xylophone(s), and a whole assortment of battery and accessory percussion. In the symphony orchestra, we percussionists spend so much of our time looking over the shoulders of the violin section envious of all the melodic passages filling their pages. Sure, we get to color all the sections of the orchestra, but rarely do we get to come to the forefront unless in purely rhythmic ways.

I feel extremely fortunate that I now have the opportunity to be at the helm of the OUPO, if only for one semester. Before moving out here, I was provided with a PDF file filled with about 15 years of Percussion Orchestra/Ensemble concert programs so I could get a sense of all the pieces that had been performed here. I used this to purposely choose literature for our concert that would be new to all of the students. And I succeeded – well, all except one student who had played one of the pieces while in high school. That’s the cool thing about these large pieces... they’ve been trickling down into high schools. I also wanted to pick pieces by some composers whose work I have really been admiring for the past few years. So, here’s the program for the November 10th OU Percussion Orchestra & Ensemble Concert:

University of Oklahoma Percussion Ensemble & Percussion Orchestra
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
8:00 p.m.
Sharp Hall, Catlett Music Center, OU

Live Webcast at 8:00 p.m. CST (9pm EST) via

Adaptation, Mvt. I by Nathan Daughtrey
is the reworking of the very first piece I ever wrote, Episodes for Solo Piano. The percussion ensemble version won third prize in the 2005 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest. When one goes through any life changes, one must experience several stages of adaptation. The first and longest movement, Improvisation, represents the stage in which you are caught off-guard and you are forced to fly by the seat of your pants. It utilizes a rather bluesy pitch set giving way to the improvisatory nature of the work.

Aboriginal Dreams by Roland Barrett
Aboriginal Dreams
was commissioned by the Mt. Lebanon High School Percussion Ensemble in Pittsburgh, PA to celebrate their 25th anniversary and received its premiere in the spring of 2009. Barrett is on the music theory and composition faculty at OU, so the percussion ensemble has had the opportunity to have him come in and work with them on his piece.

Aria by David J. Long (adapted by Andrew Dancy)
is the first movement from a solo marimba piece by David Long called “Three Scenes for Solo Marimba.” Each of the four voice assigned to the four mallets in the solo voices have been redistributed and scored for 4 marimbas and 2 vibraphones by Andrew Dancy, thus imagining the full dramatic potential of this beautiful work.

Cores Norte/Sul by Ricardo Souza
This will be the world premiere performance of Cores Norte/Sul, which Ricardo was commissioned to write by the OU Percussion Press for the OUPO. He has been rehearsing the piece and will conduct it on the concert. Ricardo earned his doctorate from OU a few years ago and now teaches as a percussion adjunct here. Like Whispers, this piece is full of fascinating colors, effects, and excitement.

Mass by John Mackey
Written in 2004, this percussion sextet was commissioned by The Julliard School for the Julliard Dance Division and the Julliard Percussion Ensemble. Like many of Mackey’s works, Mass grooves... hard. After an expansive ethereal introduction, with rolled marimbas and bowed vibraphone, the rhythms become busier and eventually transition into a groovy ostinato in the marimbas and gradually add the battery percussion. Listen to the electronically-generated recording of Mass on John’s website, then check out our webcast on the night of our concert for the live version.

Whispers by David Skidmore
won first prize in the 2005 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest (consequently the same year that my pieces Limerick Daydreams and Adaptation won 2nd and 3rd place, respectively). The colors that David used in thus piece are masterful, using repeated notes in the marimbas to enhance sustained tones on the vibraphones, taped pennies to vibraphone bars for a buzzing sound, seamless gradual shifts from wooden sounds to metallic sounds followed by a shocking explosion of drums, and a nice surprise ending.

Please join us on November 10th at 8:00 p.m. CST for the live audio webcast of the concert. You will not be disappointed!