Friday, April 16, 2010

TCNJ Percussion Ensemble Tongiht

Tonight I'm going to The College of New Jersey Percussion Ensemble recital, 8 p.m. in the Music Building theater. Free admission. This student ensemble is led by Bill Trigg, who appears with area orchestras and ensembles including the Car Music Project. In addition to being the director of the percussion ensemble, Bill is the main percussion instructor at the college and the coordinator of the schools percussion resources.

A bunch of new music will be on the program. Bill himself has written something for this concert along with me and others (whose names I don't know yet). According to his Facebook announcement "6 works written within the past 20 years, 6 living composers, 4 in attendance! Gonna be awesome!!" Bill will be on WTSR, 91.3 FM, from noon to 1 p.m. today talking about the program.

The piece of mine is a very short quartet for mallet instruments that I wrote as a part of a handful of composition studies using the computer. The title is 'L'Homme Arme' Canon and as that suggests, it was inspired in part by the centuries old pop song, "L'Homme Arme" ("The Armed Man"). The old song has been famous seemingly forever, although these days it is most famous for being famous. During the Renaissance, it was one of those songs that everyone knew, apparently, even non-French speakers. As a consequence composers liked to play with it, quoting it in various works. In particular, the song appears as a basis for dozens of masses during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

Why I was playing with it I'm not quite sure. I liked the way the structure of the melody defined the structure of mass movements by those composers, so I was adapting it into a modern idiom and finding that it still worked quite well. I also liked the testosterone-laced implication of the lyric--the armed man is coming, protect yourselves! It's a message that wouldn't look out of place in a rap song.

One of the pieces that came out of those studies was "Les Femmes Armees" ("The Armed Women"), a solo flute toccata that Elizabeth McNutt and Patti Monson have both performed. The tune doesn't appear in there anywhere, but it is affecting the background structure and, more importantly, the music developed directly out of my playing with the "L'Homme Arme" tune.

The "Canon" on tonight's program is a tricky little number and the tune is spelled out a couple times, most notably by a piano playing in octaves at the end. (One of the two vibes players gets to play the handful of piano notes.) This piece started off, like most of my music, as an atonal piece. But as I was writing it I get stripping out accidentals and smoothing out the voice-leading. Little by little. Finally, I threw up my hands and said, OK, it wants to be in F Major, let it be in F Major! From there I finished it in a couple hours.

The piece then sat on the shelf for 14 years--partly because it was so short, partly because it was a bit of an anomaly in my style and partly because the low marimba part goes all the way down to low F, which most instruments can't do. So I let it sit there until Bill happened to mention the low-range extension on his instrument and invited me to have the Percussion ensemble perform something of mine. I attended a rehearsal Wednesday and they are is doing a great job with it. But man is it short! Don't hiccup or you'll miss it.


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