Venom is my first original composition for symphonic band. The work isn’t programmatic (there is no story to it), but the music in the outer sections is evocative of the music of a snake charmer. These sections have a strong dance-like feel, despite using odd meters like 7/8 and 13/8. I wrote the first section first, and came up with the title there. To keep with the theme suggested by my title, I decided I would choose a folk song about snakes to fill in the middle section. This tune is known by many names, including On Springfield Mountain and The Pesky Sarpent. It is one of the oldest and most widespread American folk songs; it dates to the late 1700s, and tells the story of Timothy Merrick, who died in 1761 of a rattlesnake bite. One of the interesting things about this tune is that it is in an upbeat dance meter and uses humorous nonsense words in a major key. I decided the tune needed to sound more serious, so I slowed it down, wrote it in a minor key, and changed the meter to 4/4 time. I wrote this section like a Bach chorale. Unlike Mr. Merrick, the subject of this setting survives, suggested by the ending of the middle section which is in C major. The final section is a brief recapitulation of the opening theme, followed by a tongue-in-cheek, soloistic coda in which the snake is defeated.
Difficulty: Grade 3+ Duration: ca. 4’06”
Timpani (tuned to D3, G3, and C4)
Vibraslap (doubling on crash cymbals and triangle)
Tambourine (doubling on suspended cymbal)
Xylophone (doubling on mark tree)
The pickup measure, while unrelated to the rest of the material of the piece, gives the work a sense of momentum right away. However, the first section should feel dance-like and unhurried, so the closing section can have more momentum without feeling like the ensemble is tripping over itself. The accents given imply metric accent only. This is, after all, a dance! The odd meters are always divided the same: 7/8 is always 2+2+3 (a 3 feel), and 13/8 is always 3+3+3+2+2 (a 5 feel). Balance is key, and is implied by the dynamics I wrote into the work. In the beginning, the clarinets and timpani are the most important voices. Instead of harmonizing the melody, I chose to have it played in parallel fifths and octaves at its second iteration. The percussion (especially timpani, castanets, and tambourine), should keep the pace steady and contribute to the dance-like feel of the section. At letter A, the solo voice (either oboe, or the cued flute part) should come out over the texture. Letter B is the first tutti section with the whole ensemble playing. It should feel big, but also save room to grow later.
At 3 measures before letter D, the tempo suddenly slows to quarter=80. The vibraslap hit should be heard over the texture. The G-minor cadence is the pivot chord into the new key, C minor (movement down a fifth). The first horn and top euphonium split have the melody, and should be most prominent. This section is in 4/4 time, and arranged like a Bach chorale. It should by lyrical and feel serious. The C minor cadence pivots us into F minor (more movement by a fifth), and the first trumpets take over the melody. At letter F, a woodwind choir begins a sequence that modulates the ensemble back into C major, repeating the melody with tutti scoring. This is the climax of the work.
At letter H, the recapitulation begins, this time 8 bpm faster (but without feeling rushed). The percussion set the tempo and feel to be dance-like, as before. Letter K marks the beginning of the coda, with a solo in bassoon (stating the first theme) against a descending chromatic line in the solo horn. These are cued in the tenor sax and alto sax parts, respectively. This material is repeated in the solo piccolo and solo clarinet parts. The timpani should keep the tempo moving. At letter L, the meter becomes 10/8 (3+3+2+2), and the piece ends with our soloists on descending and ascending scales. The castanets also return at letter L. The vibraslap player ends the piece in a tongue-in-cheek fashion with the last note on triangle (as the piccolo and timpani parts end). The whole coda should feel like a long decrescendo without feeling like it loses momentum.
As the rain gently falls is my second original work for concert band. The music is evocative of a gentle rainstorm as it rolls in and passes by. The band uses effects such as blowing through instruments and snapping fingers to create wind and rain sounds. The storm starts gently, with a soloist over a woodwind choir. Thunder can be heard in the distance in the bass drum part. When the brass enters, the storm gradually builds intensity. In the final section, the storm reaches its peak over an intense melody in the winds and thundering in the percussion! The storm gradually fades to nothing.
Difficulty: Grade 2+ Duration: ca. 3’25”
Percussion I: Bass Drum
Percussion II: Cabasa, Suspended Cymbal
Percussion III: Claves, Mark Tree, Tubular Bells
Percussion IV: Rainstick (2+ players)
This piece is an excellent introduction to performance indeterminacy through aleatoric elements in the music. The first three bars are marked senza misura, and the approximate length of each measure is given in seconds. The measures can be conducted by showing the measure number in the left hand, and giving a downbeat with the right hand. In measure one, the brass should blow air through their instruments without making a sound by putting their top lip inside and their bottom lip on the outside of their mouthpieces. In the second measure, the woodwinds and bass drum player begin snapping their fingers, at first slowly, then speeding up, creating a rain effect. In measure three, the brass should switch to snapping their fingers.
At measure four, the music becomes metered and in tempo. The percussion lays down a groove (the accents are important!), and a clarinet choir sets up the harmonic feel with two oscillating chords in A-flat Lydian. Carefully observe the dynamic markings indicated. These, as well as all dissonances, are intentional. The instrumentation is designed to be very flexible for bands of limited size and instrumentation. For example at letter A, the third clarinet part is cued in the alto sax part, and the bass clarinet part is cued in the tenor sax part, although the clarinet choir is the ideal sound. The oboe solo at letter A5 can be rewritten for another soloist (yes, you have my permission!), such as flute, clarinet, or saxophone.
At letter A13, the solo is joined by the flute section, creating a duet which should be heard over the thicker woodwind instrumentation. At letter B, the instrumentation becomes even thicker, and the melody is transposed to C Dorian. The low brass and low reeds take over the ostinato. Alto sax, horn, and trumpets take over the melody. The rest of the woodwinds take the countermelody. Carefully observe the dynamics, especially at the measure before B9. The crescendo in the low brass/reeds is intentional, and creates a cool textural effect at B9. At B9, the texture thins to clarinet choir (this is ideal, but some parts are doubled in the saxophones). The cabasa player should move to suspended cymbal, and the clave player should switch to mark tree (wind chimes), but quietly, given the very thin texture in the winds.
Measures C1-C3 are also marked senza misura, and should be conducted and performed like the beginning. In C1, the wind and rain effects return in the brass and woodwind parts, respectively. The bass drum part calls for random thunder effects. The mark tree and suspended cymbal parts should randomly swell and decrescendo, and gradually build through measure 50 (one measure before C9). The arrows indicate that the effect should be continued through the end of the arrow. In measure C2, the low reeds, low brass, and horns have a cell surrounded by a box that should be repeated, out of sync with the other players, as fast as possible, until the arrow ends. The clarinet choir and alto saxes start another pattern in measure C3, which should be performed in the same manner.
At measure C4, the music is metered and in tempo, marked in common time and pesante. The bassoon, clarinet 3, bass clarinet, alto sax, bari sax, and percussion parts continue their patterns from the previous section (as indicated by the arrows). The tenor saxes and horns play accented, legato half notes against a syncopated rhythm in the low brass. These parts and the repeated cells should grow in intensity, but sit under the flute, oboe, clarinet I/II and trumpet parts, which should crescendo all the way to fortissimo before dying away in the measure before C9.
At C9, the wind and rain effects return in the trumpet and woodwind parts, respectively. The horns and low brass state an Fsus4 chord, which is accented in the tubular bells part. The aleatoric bass drum and suspended cymbal parts should gradually fade out. The exact ending is indicated by the end of the arrows. The final measure should be held out as all of the wind and rain effects, the rain stick, and the mark tree slowly fade to nothing.