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!

The one where he moves back to North Carolina by way of Chicago with a marimba (& tons of new clothes) in tow...

I’m sad to say that this, my one-semester sabbatical from “real” life, is quickly coming to a close. It didn’t really hit me until this afternoon as I was in my office disassembling my marimba and loading it in my car how much I would miss this place that has been my home for the past 4 months. I hosted a very successful Percussion Studio Holiday Party at my temporary abode last night at which we exchanged Secret Santa gifts (see photo on right for my gifts... that's an OU keychain & an OU hat).

It was a pretty ambitious semester with many goals accomplished, including 3 percussion ensemble concerts, 1-1/2 solo recitals, 3 5K races, 2 half marathons, and 2 completed commissions. I’ve already written about all of these things in previous posts, so if you want more details, please check out my 10 other Oklahoma posts. I just have one more full day here in Norman filled with 6 hours of percussion juries (for you non-musician readers, this is when each student comes in and plays 10-12 minutes worth of music they’ve been working on this semester). Tuesday, I’ll be winging my way up to Chicago for the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic where my piece Power Struggle will be performed by the Valdosta Middle School Percussion Ensemble, directed by Travis Downs. As soon as I return to the OKC, I’ll start the 2-day trek back to the NC (assuming I don’t get snowed in at O’Hare).

So, I’m a bit of a dork when it comes to making lists, whether bulleted or numbered, so bear with me as I share three with you:

5 things I’ll miss about Oklahoma

  • Students in the Percussion Studio (teaching, directing, chatting, playing Rock Band)
  • Campus restaurants (Café Plaid, Freebirds, even Greek House)
  • Campus Corner Starbucks baristas (I scored a lot of free coffee from them)
  • Flat terrain for running (as unrealistic as it is)
  • Campus clock tower chimes playing “Oklahoma” every day (yeah, it grew on me)

5 things I will not miss about Oklahoma

  • The “wind sweeping down the plain” (it’s not all it’s cracked up to be)
  • The constant organ playing in the lobby of the School of Music (some people love it, but it drove me batty!)
  • Sleeping on a twin-size mattress (don’t ask)
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Lack of good grocery stores

5 things I’m looking forward to returning to in NC

Okay, I’ll wrap it up now. If you read this far, thank you for indulging me.

And Happy Holidays! 

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 http://music.ou.edu

Adaptation, Mvt. I by Nathan Daughtrey
Adaptation
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)
Aria
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
Whispers
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!

Half the distance does not equal half the accomplishment

Recently, I’ve been forced to face up to the realities and consequences of making tough decisions, whether my own or those of someone else. Before even moving out to Oklahoma, I had set this lofty (yet attainable) goal for myself of training for my first full marathon. That’s 26.2 miles. Yeah... I completed about 5 weeks of training with my awesome running group in Greensboro, NC (led by Marisa Pirih) before my move and have continued training on my own once I got to Norman, OK. The solo training has actually gone extremely well. I have run in three races (two 5K’s and a half marathon) in the past 6 weeks and with each one I beat my on personal record.

Somewhere along the way, life threw me a curveball and gave me new and unexpected (yet welcome) distractions that affected my sleep patterns. This in turn affected my training, of course. Getting up at 6:00 a.m. for hill repeats after getting only 4 hours of sleep is likely not the smartest move that I’ve made.

I can’t put all the blame on my lack of sleep, though. I have been doing quite a bit of traveling on the weekends when I should be putting in the miles for my long runs. Ironically, two of these weekends out of town were for races and I either didn’t have the energy or the time to squeeze in my long run.

Okay, so why am I giving a laundry list of excuses?

I have decided to scale back to doing the half marathon in Raleigh instead of the full 26.2. Yes, I’m disappointed, but I’m choosing to focus on all the positive aspects of my training, including my increased speed and distance, even if the longest run I’ve done is 17 miles. I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to accomplish this 26.2-mile feat. A runner friend of mine told me today that the peak running age is 46. There is absolutely no data (or truth) to such a claim, but it did emphasize that I’ve got several running years left in me.

Now for the revised goal:

Finish the Rex Healthcare Half Marathon in 2 hours or less.

I ran the Heels & Hills & Him half in 2:03 and that was in sunny 80° temps in TX (and with a half mile of walking). I’m thinking that even with the hills of Raleigh, I should be able to keep a better pace in the cool temperatures of NC at the beginning of November. If you find yourself in Raleigh at 7am on Sunday, November 1st, please come on out & cheer me on. 

Climbing out of the dark compositional abyss

Wow, that’s quite dramatic. It does actually feel like I’m emerging from cave or something and my eyes are still taking some time to adjust to the brightness. After experiencing a little more loss than someone should in the span of 4 months, I did fall into a 1-year compositional abyss in which I could not see to write a thing. Zero. Nada. Not a good thing when you have several commissions looming over you. As 2009 rolled around, I started a 365 Project that accomplished two things – helped me deal with the loss of my mother and got my writing again, if only little 1-minute arrangements of someone else’s melody. A series of original pieces and arrangements followed, but I still wasn’t in “that place.” That place where ideas flow seemingly out of nowhere. That place where composition & creativity is effortless and does not feel like work.

Since it was loss that set this void in motion, it’s not surprising at all that the addition of new surroundings/people to my life would help to guide me back out of it. All of a sudden, my mind was open and free and welcoming new ideas. On one of my early morning runs, I found the main theme for the first movement of my newest commissioned work, Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Ensemble. This movement, “Night’s Song,” will be premiered in November at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis. I went into a lot more detail about that one in the previous post.

Thank you for allowing me to drone on a while. All I can say is that I’m happy to be back in “that place,” as I have several more compositional obligations to fulfill over the coming months:

  • 8-10 minute work for Percussion Orchestra (10-12 players)
  • 5-7 minute work for Wind Symphony (Grade V)
  • 8-9 minute work for Keyboard Percussion Ensemble (Grade V-VI)
  • 4-5 minute work for Middle School Percussion Ensemble (7-8 players)

Should be a fruitful winter & spring!

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).

Found some hills...and chickens and horses and wild turkeys

One of my concerns moving out to Oklahoma in the middle of my marathon training was how flat it is here. Flat in Central North Carolina? Not so much. The City of Oaks Marathon course? Definitely not! I had two wonderfully flat runs around the OU campus earlier this week, but I've been on the lookout for some hills to better prepare myself for November's race. A chance drive down an unknown road that's one block from my neighborhood made everything right in the world.

Hills!

This 5-1/2 mile stretch of rural asphalt starts with some very subtle rolling hills as it winds away from civilization. These seemingly unending hills get larger and larger the further you go. As the path unfolds, you are alternately shadowed by trees (and the musky odor of skunk) and then surrounded acres and acres of farmland (and the sweet smell of horse manure).

For the entire duration of my 6-mile run, I was wishing I had brought my camera with me (or at least my phone) so I could capture some of the experience on "film." Instead, I decided to return to my new beloved road this morning for a leisurely walk. Maybe I was moving too fast yesterday to notice, but this morning I stumbled upon two chickens on the side of the road (no doubt pondering the ramifications of crossing). They were quite friendly and posed for the camera, as did the horse and wild turkeys. Well... the wild turkeys were off running in the distance, so I quickly caught them with my zoom, so they're a bit of a blur.

I'll be heading up to Oklahoma City bright & early tomorrow morning for a 13-mile run around Lake Hefner. Then classes start Monday!

The one where he moves to Oklahoma to train for a marathon with a marimba in tow...

Okay, there are nuggets of truth in this statement, but as a whole it’s not entirely accurate. Tomorrow, I am indeed moving “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain” to be a Sooner for 4 months. I am also training for my first full marathon and the bulk of the training will take place in Oklahoma (but the race itself will be in Raleigh, NC). Margarita the marimba will be making the trek as well.

I’m taking a 4-month hiatus from my glamorous life in G’boro to accept a one-semester position as Visiting Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Oklahoma while Dr. Lance Drege is on sabbatical during the fall semester. My teaching responsibilities will include lessons for undergraduate and graduate students, directing the fantabulous OU Percussion Orchestra, and heading up Percussion Studio Class. Here are some upcoming highlights for the semester:

November 10 at 8:00 p.m. – OU Percussion Ensembles Concert
November 11-14 – Percussive Arts Society International Convention (Indianapolis, IN)
November 30 at 8:00 p.m. – Nathan Daughtrey, Visiting Faculty Recital
December 15-19 – Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic (Chicago, IL)

There will no doubt be more events to add to this brief calendar (student recitals, holiday percussion ensemble concert, Sooner football games) once I arrive & get acclimated.

Apparently I didn’t think this would be enough to keep me busy his fall, so I’m training for my first full marathon – the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh, NC. I ran my first half marathon last October and it kind of owned me – a very hilly course here in G-town that ends with a nice uphill flourish. Ugh. Pain. Accomplishment. Joy? I don’t know, but I had definitely caught running fever. The plan was to run another half marathon this fall, but as soon as I learned I’d be moving to OK, I decided that being in a new place would be the perfect opportunity to increase my mileage and aim for the full 26.2 miles. Not sure where the logic is there. Whatever, here’s my fall race schedule:

September 5 – Brookhaven Run 5K (Norman, OK)
September 27 (2 days before my birthday, btw) – Heels & Hills & Him Half Marathon (Irving, TX)
October 3 – Komen Race for the Cure 5K (Houston, TX)
November 1 – City of Oaks Marathon (Raleigh, NC)

 

I have a great network of runner friends here in Greensboro, so I can only hope I’ll find the same in Norman.

I’ll be doing quite a bit of blogging as the semester unfolds (for me that probably means one entry a month, but it’s at least something...).