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In 2015, Emily Pontén asked me to write a piece for her senior recital, leaving lots of the specifics up to me. Based on a couple of chance conversations and brainstorming, I decided to include her partner Silas and his instrument of choice (percussion), piano, and Myriaha Maxwell & her oboe. It just so happened that Myriaha’s partner, Ben Seavello, happened to be a pianist, so the pair of couples turned out to be a great fit for the piece, and the title (and some moments in the music) essentially wrote itself.
This is probably one of the more “traditionally” tonal concert works I’ve written in recent years. As the name implies, it is written in a loose, short sonata form. The exposition’s themes are lifted from a one-minute piano solo I wrote for Hayk Arsenyan and his 15 Minutes of Fame concert entitled “A Short, Lonely Dance.” The expansion of the music and its instrumentation has, I think, transformed it into something sweeter, less lonely, and more romantic.
- Alto flute
- Eb Clarinet
- 3 Bb Clarinets
- Bb Bass clarinet
- Bb Contrabass clarinet
- Bb Soprano saxophone
- Eb Alto saxophone
- Bb Tenor saxophone
- Eb Baritone saxophone
- 5 Bb Trumpets
- 4 F horns
- 3 Trombones
- Bass trombone
- String bass
- Timpani, triangle
- Vibraphone, tambourine
- Chimes, snare drum
- Marimba, tom-toms
- Crotales, glockenspiel, tam-tam
- Bass drum
Today technology aims to improve and extend our lives, but nothing so far has been able to suspend our inevitable deaths. We all try to leave our marks, but it seems that few of us succeed. Out of the billions of humans that have ever lived on this earth, perhaps a handful are remembered at all. The network of computer servers that make up the Internet have made sharing our stories easier, but we’ve become overwhelmed by the sheer number of stories out there. Furthermore, these servers won’t last forever. Someday all of our stories will disappear. Humans have invented this miraculous technology that can hold astronomically large amounts of data, but it still is finite; it still will someday die. If you look hard enough, though, there is beauty to be found in the dissonance of our short existence in this vast universe.
Machinations is an indirect musical reflection on these thoughts. Our stories build up more and more, fragmenting throughout the web of information and machines until finally, it comes to a breaking point, and all we have are the stories of old, themselves fragmented, pleading to be heard, to have some place in the short history of the human race, and ultimately quietly themselves to their sad, beautiful fates.
The finale of this piece contains a musical quote from the closing of “Occhi del mio cor vita” from Carlo Gesualdo’s fifth book of madrigals (1566). The text pleads, “mirate almen ch’io moro” (“at least see me dying”). Although the madrigal is more about unrequited love, the line’s sentiments mirror those of this piece.
- Alto saxophone
- Percussion (vibraphone, various)
Evocations was an excessively fun piece to work on. Silas first approached me in Spring 2015 to write a piece for his senior recital the following year. In June he and David and I got together at Western Washington University’s band room with a field recorder and a whole bunch of percussion. I hit record and told them to make some noise, taking notes on sax multiphonics and extended techniques, various percussion effects, and combinations thereof. I spent the summer writing this piece based on those notes and the inspiration that came from that session.
As the piece began to take shape, it quickly became all about the rhythmic and spectral contrapuntal interplay between the saxophone and the percussion. As usual, Evocations doesn’t follow any sort of cohesive narrative arc, but when pressed to come up with something by David and Silas, I imagined an innocent child wandering through the forest, accidentally summoning monsters as he went, and… well, as the piece continuously ramps up in intensity to its pounding conclusion, let’s just say it doesn’t end well for the child.
A huge thanks goes out to Silas and David for asking me to write this piece for them, and also for pulling off the challenging licks I wrote with ease; I half-expected them to throw the music in my face and ask me to re-write it, but they’re beasts. Cheers.
Night Sketches is a set of five miniatures for solo piano. Each short piece varies greatly stylistically, but they are joined conceptually by their portrayal of particular night time scenes. Specific images are left to the imagination of the audience, in favor of a more impressionistic interpretation.
- Soprano Saxophone
- Alto Saxophone
- Tenor Saxophone
- Baritone Saxophone
In Spring 2014, Matt Birmingham of the Equus Sax Quartet approached me about writing a piece for the ensemble, and I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. I sought to write something that would play to the players’ specific strengths & abilities and of the unique timbral qualities & techniques of the saxophone. A special thanks is owed to Soren, Matt, David H., and David D., who played through many drafts and helped guide the direction of the piece.
An oratorio has historically been essentially a (usually) unstaged opera on a religious narrative. While this work certainly doesn’t contain any vocalists or specific biblical story, with the music and the titles I hoped to evoke feelings of sacredness and spiritual contemplation that one might experience with a traditional oratorio. The first movement depicts the internal workings of the mind during meditation, especially that of an inexperienced meditator; resistant, distracted, and trying, but still working to come to terms with the idea of stillness. The second movement depicts a spastic outburst of the body and mind, as pent-up aggression and negativity boil over and explode outwards before finally dying down into the third movement, a series of solemn, inquisitive recitatives and chorales, perhaps sermons or eulogies. The final movement is a freeform folk dance, having come to terms with (or at least accepted the lack of an answer to) the questions posed by the previous movements. I heartily encourage any more or less specific or alternative imagery that your ears might impose while you listen.
- Flute (dbl Piccolo)
- Bb Clarinet (dbl Eb Clarinet)
- Alto saxophone
- Bb Trumpet
- F horn
- Piano (dbl Celeste)
- 2 Percussion
- 2 Violins
“Via lactea” was the original Latin term for our galaxy and the origin of the term “Milky Way.” Of course, when the galaxy was given this title it was unclear exactly what that band of light in the night sky was. This music touches upon many of my own feelings about the cosmos: quiet, personal, contemplative awe; wondrous, excited discovery; precise scientific calculations; the horror of our short-lived mortality; and my own hopeful (but often skeptical) belief in the triumph of the human spirit on this small speck of dust in the enormous, magnificent galaxy we call home.
- 4 voices (SATB)
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thus read the original text written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist and Baptist minister in 1892. The text has since gone through several transformations to reach its modern form, including the most famous addition of the phrase “under God,” which began to see usage in the late 40s and early 50s.
The current text of the Pledge, and the version you (more or less) hear here, reads as such:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
- Bb clarinet
“Nocturne” comes from the same Latin word, nocturnus, as the word nocturnal, referring most commonly to creatures whose activities are limited primarily to the night. The nocturne is a musical work made perhaps most famous by Romantic piano composers such as Frédéric Chopin, who wrote 21 of them. The pieces are generally solemn and tranquil, often gloomy. This piece takes this contemplative approach and intersperses it with hints of dreamy terror and triumph.
This was the first piece I completed for WWU’s composition program after my acceptance. While I’d rather forget most of the rest of my pieces from that year, I’m still rather proud of this one, and it has continued to see many performances after its premiere, from its use in a dance choreography to a flute master-class focused on contemporary techniques and repertoire.