Musical Ear: September 3, 2011

After reading the blog of composer/violinist/violist Sakura Dixon, I got the idea to make some of my music musings about the “cool stuff I’m listening to,” as she says. In this way, I can share with others my excitement of experiencing the new, amazing music I find.

This week, in doing score study for the String and Percussion piece I’m writing, I stumbled upon Elliot Carter’s “8 Pieces for Four Timpani.” I had a library score for it and, thanks to YouTube, I found a mass of wonderful performances of all the movements. (There are some really amazing percussionists out there!) It’s not to be played as a suite, and I think it would be draining on any professional percussionist’s endurance to do so. The piece does not seem easy, with its compound rhythms that literally create new tempos and its use of extended timpani technique. However, the effect is truly amazing. Carter manages to elicit different colors through use of various mallets/sticks, hitting the drumhead on various places of the drum, calling for timpani mutes, and demanding various stroke styles within the same riff. One of the most intriguing movements is the one entitled “March,” in which the player imitates two different performers by playing one mallet/stick the normal way and using the butt of the other mallet. The way it’s notated, it really does look like two separate lines layered over one another to create very interesting counterpoint between the two.

Disclaimer: A lot of Carter’s music is really weird and hard to get your mind around. However, this “8 Pieces for Four Timpani” is truly amazing and must be heard by percussionists or anyone writing for timpani. In fact, I’ve started mentioning it to all my percussionist friends, and I’m hoping they’ll play it soon!

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One in, one out

Last week I finally finished the trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano. I decided to go with the title, “Mood Ring” to reflect the changing timbres of the piece. I was able to finish up the editing and get it to the players this past weekend. It feels wonderful to finish a piece, and even better when you have people who want to play it ready to go.

Now I’m revisiting a piece I started last semester. It’s for string quartet and percussion. I managed to pare the percussion parts down from 4 people to 2, due to the fact that they can double up on instruments throughout the piece. Plus, I cut out some of the larger instruments I didn’t really need, and knew it would cause a hassle to procure; ex: bass drum, vibes, etc.

Have I mentioned how much I love the guiro? They're not just for elementary music classrooms. 🙂
The percussion instruments I’m using so far include timpani, cow bell, wood blocks, high hat, marimba, and possibly a guiro in the third movement.

While I’ve taken a long break from the arduous work I was doing on the first movement, ideas for the third and second movements are crowding my brain. Now, to find time around school, teaching, and house work to get all these ideas down!!

First trio for violin, clarinet and piano

I just recently finished the first draft of my first trio for violin, clarinet, and piano. It was a great experience writing it; I was able to unleash my creativity and write without boundaries.

I’m writing this piece for the Trio Moderno under the commission of its clarinetist, Michelle Lewandowski. Her only requirement was that she wanted it to sound, “pretty,” unlike “a lot of that weird new music.” Being a hopeless Neo-Romantic, I was happy to please! It’s fun to write music that’s more tonal and calm than some of the things I’m writing these days.

On Monday I unveiled the first draft to Trio Moderno’s clarinetist and pianist with warm, excited acceptance. With a few revisions to the ending, it should be good to go. I can’t wait to work on it with them, and (as many digitally notating composers yearn to) hear it on real instruments!!

The only thing is…what do we call it? My husband suggested something about “vampires” due to a particularly haunting riff in the middle section. Due to the changing colors but recycling of rhythmic motives, I’m thinking something more about “mood changes.” Thoughts?

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