Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

Archive for December, 2009

52 Weeks – Week 11 – Endurance

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Today’s piece of music: Mvmt. 2 of “Mixed Quintet? You Bet!” entitled

Endurance

This was the second part of the strangely-titled “Mixed Quintet? You Bet!” project from my freshman BYU year. The object of this particular part was to create something humorous, so I came up with this weird poem:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who could hold his breath for over thirteen minutes
Here now is his story.

This man had a brother, who, try as he might
Could not hold his breath as long
So instead he decided to give up that racket
And now he’s written this song:

The older one went to the younger one day
And saw that something was wrong
He asked “Little brother, what’s the matter with you?”
And in return he heard this song:

The older one laughed and smiled and laughed as he said,
“Young one, there’s no need to fear!
For you are a cello player, you see,
And can play a note for a year!”

The younger one thought he’d try it out,
And so one note did he play
He played it year in and he played it year out
And he’s playing it still to this day!

The conceits were: the older one (the baritone player) actually couldn’t hold his breath very long, which is why he suddenly stops playing and starts wheezing near the beginning. Everyone else stops and waits for him to catch his breath, then they begin again! Hilarious! Then, when the younger one’s plight is heard in “this song,” the main theme of the work is played at varying dissonances: first a tritone, then a minor second. So sad! Finally, on the line “one note did he play” the cellist plays a note and holds it for the rest of the piece! The note is even still being held when movement 3 starts (which I may get to someday as part of this whole thing)! Ha ha!

Anyway, this was a fun piece to do. We weren’t allowed to talk to the performers about the piece, so I have no idea what was going through their heads, but it must have been a bit disconcerting, as the violin enters early after the second stanza, which is why you hear some guy loudly singing the actual entrance. That was our illustrious teacher, Mr. Murray Boren, who conducted all these pieces. I got some fun compliments on the tune from the other students in the class. Apparently they thought I’d be a good kids’ songwriter. You know, for kids! That’s as well as maybe, and who knows? Maybe I’ll end up going that way some day.

Coming up next week: “Bens!” Obviously a collaboration!


Why taking Jazz History is kick-a** during finals week

So it’s finals week. You make it to the BYU testing center, nervous but eager to get your test over with. But your last final isn’t on chemistry or advanced calculus or business or even English. No, you’ve taken jazz history this past semester, and it’s time to take the final listening ID test. You grab your bubble sheet and question booklet as the testing center worker also hands you an MP3 player. As you enter the testing room, tension fills the air. Hundreds of students around you are taking tests, scratching their heads in a desperate last-minute plea to pull off whatever grade they’re shooting for.

You take a seat. To your right is a girl trying to define some sort of chemical bond structure. To your left, a guy sweating and desperately punching numbers into a calculator to solve some sort of physics question. Ahead of you, a small freshman apparently trying to remember exactly which state nullified the tariff of 1833. These are not happy faces. These are faces of determination, desperation, concentration. Complex problems need to be solved; complex formulas need to be applied; obscure facts need to be remembered. Some of this strikes you as you take your seat, hoping beyond hope that you’ll be able to do as well these uber-serious fellow students of yours.

As you plug in your headphones you take special notice of the silence that permeates the air. Aside from pencil scratchings, calculator-button-pushing, and an occasional cough, the room is dead silent. Some of these students have already been here for an hour or more, some of them will still be here for another two hours. Sweating, writing, praying, all in dead silence.

But then your switch on the MP3 player.

BOOM, BABY!

Suddenly filled with energy, you note that the entire testing center atmosphere seems to have lost all of its anxiety. The test isn’t just surmountable, it’s now AWESOME!

What is the name of this piece? “Time Check!” BOOM!

Who was the bandleader? Buddy Rich! BOO-YAH!

When was this piece recorded? 1973, y’all!

The guy on your left is still frantically pushing buttons. A student takes a seat behind you, fully prepared to spend the next three hours writing a long-involved essay about human rights in South Africa. Meanwhile, you turn to the next example in your test!

When was this piece recorded? 1977! Aw, yeah!

What important jazz genre does it exemplify? It’s fusion, b**tches! (justified by the album that launched the fusion movement)

Who wrote it? Joe Zawinul! He was Austrian, but that’s not part of the question! DIG IT!

The next few examples fly by as you get more into it! John Coltrane! Chick Corea! Ornette Coleman! Modal improvisation! Postbop pentatonic solo techniques! And, of course, MILES DAVIS?!? Each answer seems to flow right out of you, doing these pieces justice. You’re excited! You’re pumped! You’re going to pass this test, and you’re gonna do it in style!

Finally, the last example plays, you answer the last question, and you turn the MP3 player off. The girl on your right is still drawing molecular bond diagrams, the student behind you has barely started the first paragraph of an essay, and the guy on your left is still working that calculator. Each of them are furiously working, filled with anxiety and stress. They have to solve complex, impersonal problems while in the hated testing center. But you got to listen to Buddy Rich!

Suck on that, business majors!


52 Weeks – Week 10 – Prologue/Overture

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Today’s piece of music, presented in three forms:

“Prologue/Overture” from Travels

CD Version

Live Version

MIDI Version

(For those not familiar with Travels, this may help.)

To quote from my Travels memoirs: “This was the first attempt at orchestration for the show. It was started mid-December of 1999 at Nate’s house when we were still trying to figure out how to work the whole process. This was even before it was decided that I do the orchestrations. It was mostly finished in December but touch-ups and other work were applied later before I printed it.”

And also from the overview in that same document: “When I first really started helping Nate in December of 1999 during my senior year of high school it was because I knew a lot more about Finale than he did. It had been decided for a while that I was to direct the pit orchestra, but the decision of who was doing the orchestrations wasn’t made until near the end of December. We had finally finished the first piano reduction for 1. Prologue/Overture at Nate’s house when I started playing with the orchestra parts to it. I asked Nate if I could also orchestrate the rest of the show, and he said something like, ‘Sure, whatever.’ Little did I know what I was getting myself into.”

Ah, the beginning of Travels. As was noted above, this piece I orchestrated at Nate’s house while he was still trying to figure out Finale. I’m not even sure that we had a firm instrumentation down at that point (for example, I wrote a guitar part for it before it became clear that we weren’t going to end up having a guitar player for the show).

Being the prologue, this piece was special for a number of reasons: it laid out the basic tenets of the plot, those being that the entire show was a flashback of Marco’s travels, that something horrible happened to Marco personally that he didn’t want recorded, and that now he’s been put in jail somewhere with a writer named Rustichello who’s writing everything down. Also this is one of only three pieces that has spoken dialogue in the entire show. In fact, according to Nate, all the spoken dialogue in the prologue comes directly from the actual book of Marco Polo’s travels itself. There’s not much to say about the music itself. It’s given a sort of regal, even martial feel with the staccato horns, snare drum, and steady beat, with a B section taken from a later piece in the show (“12. In These Mountain Tops”).

The overture is just a paraphrase of the main theme of the show (“6. Travels”) with a harp arpeggio at the end seguing into the second piece (“2. Day After Day”). This theme plays at various time skips or commencements during the show: here, when the show flashes back; during song #6, when Marco actually begins his travels; at the end of the first act, when Marco decides to change things (and we move to several months later when act 2 starts); at the end of the escape song before we return to the “present” Marco in jail, and finally to close out the entire show. That’s a lot of ground to cover for one theme. I’ll speak more about it if/when I talk about the song “Travels” itself.

Also one random note: this song let my brother Ben answer a Final Jeopardy! answer about a famous explorer who dictated his story to a prisoner in 1298. Ben was just playing along at home, but still, it was pretty neat.

Coming up next week: Mvmt. 2 of “Mixed Quintet? You Bet!” entitled “Endurance”!


52 Weeks – Week 9 – New

Explanation of the 52 Weeks Project

Today’s piece of music is:

New

As I’ve mentioned before, I wrote a lot of songs for SaXon Geat. During high school it was the instrumentation I used for virtually every song I wrote before Travels. This particular one, while not one we ever performed , rehearsed, or even gave an official name to, is still one of my favorites. I’m not quite sure why, but I think it has a bit of that “factor X,” which I believe is related to the major 7th chord in the first measure of the main theme. In any case, it feels like it’s got a bit more feeling behind it than some of the other stuff I wrote around the same time.

At first I wrote up to 1:12, and then let it sit for a while. When I came back to it I ended stealing the melody of the bridge from the ending credits theme to Chrono Trigger: “To Far Away Times,” which is still one of the most sublime pieces of music I’ve ever heard, despite its SNES 16-bit sound-chip origin. Then I closed it up repeating the main theme.

I remember playing this for Nate back in the day, and he liked it so much he ended up incorporating the short line played at 0:54 into Travels, during the song “No Better Timing.” Oddly enough, “No Better Timing” was the one song I never even tried to orchestrate (well, besides “The Parade,” but Nate never even wrote that one down), but even so I suppose I had a little influence on it, which means I had a hand in every single song in that show, except “The Parade.” Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Coming up next week: the “Prologue/Overture” to Travels!