My newest composition is written for one of Co-op Press' Performing Partners, Jason T. Laczkowski. Jason is a wonderful saxophonist who frequently performs with Anna Draper, violin and Joshua Russell, piano. This marvelous trio can be heard on Jason's Emeritus Recordings CD "Come Down Heavy." They asked me to write a piece for them in a crossover style, similar to Yo Yo Ma's "Goat Rodeo" release.
I have recently been watching episodes of the History Channel's "How the States Got Their Shapes" and became aware of the importance of rivers. This led me to and idea of doing a piece called "River Suite" which will have four movements, each named after a different river. The selected river would reflect a different segment of cultural life in the United States. For example, the first movement is called "Pecos" and reflects a Saturday night social event common in farming and ranching communities, namely the barn dance. Subsequent movements will be called "Peedee", Mississippi", and "Harlem" and reflect spirituals, the blues, and funk respectively.
"Pecos" incorporates three fiddlin' tunes, "Hop Up, My Ladies", "Golden Slippers", and "Blue Tail Fly." My challenge in this movement was to make these tunes sound fresh. By fresh I mean adding some ambiguity. Ambiguity is an important characteristic of art and adds to its expressiveness. Folk songs are very simplistic and therefore contain little ambiguity. Some of the techniques I used to accomplish this was obscuring tonality, adding rhythmic asymmetry, adding melodic variation, and adding counterpoint.
Ambiguity of meter occurs in the very first measure with the use of syncopation in a 5/4 measure before settling into a 4/4 meter where ambiguity of tonality takes over. The verse of "Hop Up My Ladies" will enter on measure 4 in the key of C, but measures 2 & 3 have a D as the bass note and chords built in 4ths as the rhythmic harmony in the piano right hand. The 4th beat of each measure consists of E and Bb, a melodic rendering of the tritone to further obscure tonality. At measure 4 when the tune comes in, the only change is that the bass note goes down to C. This basic concept of ambiguity continues to measure 22 with octave and instrumentation changes adding interest to each phrase and counterpoint adding interest at measure 19. Measure 23 ushers in a key change and a variation of "Hop Up My Ladies" still keeping the harmony obscure through the use of 4ths. Pedal point drones are added in spots as well as combining the verse variation with the chorus of the tune, thus creating contrapuntal ambiguity.
M. 42 relaxes the tension a bit by slowing down the rhythmic values, but still has tonality tension as there is an abrupt modulation to Db for one measure then d minor for the next before settling into D major for the verse of "Golden Slippers". At measure 42, I create a fiddlin' tune variant of the verse for the violin and add chromaticism in the piano. M. 52 ushers in another abrupt modulation and offsets the chorus of the tune by one beat giving this section rhythmic ambiguity. At M. 56, the chorus is back to its original rhythmic placement. At M 61, I use a lot of rhythmic asymmetry to create interest to the "Blue Tail Fly" tune.
M. 85 brings back sections from earlier in the work at every increasing tempos to bring the movement to a rousing close.
In the fiddlin' tune sections of this movement I left the sixteenth notes as single bows. I'm am uncertain as to what note groupings are common in playing fiddlin' tunes. On Saturday night, I went to a concert by Celtic Spring, a very talented family of musicians and dancers, an tried to figure out the bowing pattern on the fiddlin' tunes they played. It appeared to be a combination of alternating bow direction on every note, and grouping 2, 3, and 4 notes together into one bow direction. The decision seemed to be based upon whether the line was going up or down and what part of the beat the up or down began on. Rather that me ( a non-violinist) trying to figure out the bow direction, I decided to leave the notes without bow direction markings and let the violinist figure out what is comfortable for he/she. I want all the notes to be cleanly articulated except for where I have specifically marked slurs.
I am now using flip pdf technology for the musical examples that go
along with my posts. It uses Flash Player that most browsers come
with. You will be hearing an mp3 of sampled sounds playing the music
and you will see the score at the same time. You will need to turn
the pages by clicking on the arrows at the appropriate time. To see
and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/river_suite_blog.html.
As always, your comments are appreciated.