sing, dance, renew, evolve (blues)

ensemble flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello
duration ~4:40
score PDF, 322KB
performance history 11/04/2008 by ASM at Nuyorican Poets Café (Election Night Spectacular!)
date completed 10/28/2008
series unblocking
era ASM

background

I have often avoided more obvious or pop approaches to small ensemble writing, and instead tried to write in a “chamber music idiom” that ends up sounding stereotypical or pretentious. I think this piece, like the two that preceded it, were part of not just writer’s block but a larger struggle about “what it means to be in Anti-Social Music” or, more appropriately, “can I write something that I will like and would fit with ASM?” I still believe in tonal music, I still believe in consonance; what qualifies as “new music”?

Attempting to reject that compositional pattern, and to perhaps try a different approach on combating writer’s block, I decided to write this election-themed piece as a blues-infused work for mixed chamber ensemble. The structure is basically a song structure (AABA) and the progression is essentially i-iv-V (blues in F minor). The dotted rhythms in the piece are intended to be swung. Nothing fancy.

Well, at least the initial intent was “nothing fancy.” This song started out largely monophonic, and then I added some adjunct melodies. I tried to keep the harmonic changes normal, but started stretching things out in between verses (and within voicings). Soon I found myself playing with syncopation – keeping eighth notes straight against swung dotted-eighth/sixteenth note lines. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a development section, keys be damned, and transitioning into a recapitulation of the A section with a walking “bassline” (courtesy of the viola and cello), all the while making adjustments here and there to rationalize a chamber instrumentation.

In other words, I’d started with a simple structure, and ended up with a more typical chamber music piece that happens to use more jazz harmonies and rhythms.

Every instrument in this piece does its harmonic duty at some point; so aside from what can become monotonous rhythms, often a player is just riding on a note because the important aspect is the overall chord. In that way, it does feel like it could’ve been a solo piano piece (which is how it was written) if it weren’t for the occasional standout melody.

This piece has been performed only once (by Andrea La Rose, Jeff Hudgins, Hubert Chen, Kathy Canning, and Pat Muchmore) on election night in 2008.