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.

it was a strange dream: artist & storyteller brian andreas as muse

Strange Dream by Brian Andreas
It was a strange dream, he said,
& I don't remember a thing except
it kept my attention the whole time.

(*Disclaimer: There will be many links in this entry, as I do want to share as much of Brian's related work as possible.)

Sometime during my undergrad (um-teen years ago-ish), I became aware of the works of artist and storyteller Brian Andreas. He creates StoryPeople (http://www.storypeople.com) – sculptures made of found objects, such as wood and wire – covers them with vividly colored paint, and prints short little quirky, poignant & inciteful stories about life, love and the general pursiot of happiness & goodness. These stories are also available as colorful prints, furniture, books, postcards, and wherever else your imagination might take you. Scanning the walls of my home, you might discover five or six of these prints sprinkled about creating an air of whimsy.

When I first started composing during grad school, I was constantly in search of new forms of inspiration. I was about to start writing a duet for alto saxophone and marimba to enter in a composition contest (which I subsequently lost) and decided to turn to a couple of books of Brian's stories. The name of one of these books was "Strange Dreams" which immediately struck me as the perfect title for a collection of these 4 little vignettes for sax & marimba. Then I read the corresponding story to the title (above) and immediately thought it captured how I wanted people to perceive my music. I mean of course I want them to remember it, but capturing their attention so they are living 100% in the moment for at least the duration of the composition.

The stories I chose for each of the four movements were Unheard Music, Ballerina Mom, Mermaid Song, and Pools of Light. I encourage you to follow these links to read each of these stories. The RoseWind Duo (University of South Carolina professors Clifford Leaman, alto saxophone and Scott Herring, marimba) recently released a fantastic recording of the piece on the Equilibrium label and it is available on iTunes.

I have since returned to Brian's stories as the source of inspiration for two more of my compositions. One was a duet for marimba and vibraphone titled Edge of the World, which I gave as a wedding gift to two of my former students and now friends, Michael & Sara Wood. It is based on the story True Things ("They came to sit & dangle their feet off the edge of the world & after awhile they forgot everything but the good & true things they would do someday."). The other is a duet for piano and marimba titled Almost Beyond ("She laid on my chest & her breathing filled me to almost beyond what I could hold.")and commissioned by another husband/wife duo, Una Duo.

Something tells me this will not be the last time I use Brian Andreas and his writings as my muse, so stay tuned. I'm pretty excited about a future collaboration with him, but more on that when it actually comes to fruition. In the meantime, I highly recommend following him on Twitter (@briandandreas). Every time he tweets, another one of his little stories flows right on out of him, usually in the same vain as his StoryPeople, but if you're lucky, occasionally you catch a much edgier Brian Andreas giving him even more depth. I've been fortunate enough to become long-distance friends with him as a result of the mutual admiration of our respective artistic offerings.

Summary of Places to Find Brian:
StoryPeople website: http://www.storypeople.com
Zen Bandit (his personal blog site that hasn't been updated for a while): http://www.zenbandit.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/brianandreas

Night’s Song (Concerto for Vibraphone, Mvt. I)

A few years ago, I was approached by Lisa Rogers from Texas Tech University to write a vibraphone concerto for her. We had already collaborated on a project for oboe and vibraphone resulting in Tangling Shadows. It’s wonderful to get to work with someone multiple times so that you truly take advantage of one another’s talents, expectations, and idiosyncrasies. In this particular case, I am grateful to Lisa for her patience throughout the whole process while I found the piece.

Like many others, I love to go outside of the world of music to find the inspiration for a given piece. One of my favorite places to go is literature and, more specifically, poetry. There’s just something about the vivid imagery and the arc of the story or poem that helps the composition take shape. Since this would be a two-movement work, I wanted to find two poems that represented some kind of duality so that the movements would be quite contrasting. One of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, happened to have written a collection of poems called “Ode to Opposites” that features pairs of poems. I knew going in that I liked the idea of pitting dark against light and that’s precisely what I found – “Ode to Nighttime” and “Ode to Enchanted Light.”

The first movement, Night’s Song (El Canto de la Noche), paints a picture of rain falling in the dark of the night - at times serene and beautiful, at others much more violently passionate. The tonality is centered on A, but there is constantly a struggle between the major and minor modes transforming a simple lyrical theme into something ethereal and haunting. Some of the phrases from the poem that gave shape to this movement include “behind daylight,” “you thrash around the sky,” “you run wild over the savage flow of rivers,” and “while stars gaze from blackened heights.”

In regards to the vibraphone itself, it has such deep roots in jazz that I really wanted this concerto to be more of a departure. There are other vibraphone concertos that do a great job of embracing this history, so I didn't want to simply follow in others' footsteps. My aim was to write something "pretty" while maintaining the integrity of a "serious" piece of music that will stand the test of time in the repertoire. As it stands now, the piece only exists for solo vibraphone and percussion ensemble as well as a piano reduction. Once the second movement is complete and the percussion ensemble version has received its premiere, two other versions will follow – one for vibraphone and wind ensemble and the other for vibraphone and orchestra (undecided as to whether it will be full orchestra or string orchestra).

Here is an electronic realization of the percussion ensemble version of the piece.

I. Night's Song

“Night’s Song” will receive its premiere at the 2009 Percussive Arts Society International Convention on Saturday, November 14th at 9:00 a.m. by the Brazoswood High School Percussion Ensemble, directed by Eric Harper, with Dr. Lisa Rogers as the soloist.

The second movement, Enchanted Light, will be completed very soon (if all the stars are aligned).