Shane Reeves (vibraphone) and Briana Leaman (oboe) perform Tangling Shadows at the University of South Carolina. Commissioned by Lisa Rogers and Amy Anderson from Texas Tech University. the piece is based on the poem "Thinking, Tangling Shadows" by Pablo Neruda. The oboe part is also playable on soprano saxophone.
My new vibraphone solo Encantada is being released for publication (among a slew of other pieces that I'll share later) in the next couple of weeks by C. Alan Publications, so I thought it a good idea to post something other than the electronically-generated recording that has been representing the piece so far.
Please excuse the following:
- the green hue courtesy of the flourescent lights in my office at work
- the moderately poor video quality
- the 4 wrong notes (yes, I counted)
Read more about "Encantada" in an earlier blog post.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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
A cicada sends its sawing song
high into the empty air.
The world is
a glass overflowing
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.
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.
“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).