85 on 96 at 12
Frank Bongiono and I went to Ithaca College together some time ago. During his student teaching assignment at Waterloo High School he arranged to have me “commissioned” to compose a piece for the Waterloo Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Mr. Bill Boyes. Since Frank had the car and we were both going the same direction – up route 96 through Ovid from Ithaca to Waterloo, I hitched a ride. It was late at night - it was about 80 miles back to Ithaca and Frank got us back to campus very quickly. As a matter of fact – come to think of it - we might have even been going even FASTER than 85 on route 96 at midnight.
This up-tempo ‘swinger’ is reminiscent of the thrill (?) of that late night ride….
Eero's Dream is about the Gateway Arch. I have never seen this monument in person but I have been researching the structure and its meaning since Mr. Jeff Pottinger from Chaminade Preparatory School contacted me to write this piece.
There are some interesting facts that helped me construct the work. For example - the structure is in the form of a Cantilever Arch, the shape that a chain takes when suspended from both ends. If you listen carefully to the piece it takes on what composers call an Arch Form - meaning that the beginning and the end are similar while the middle of the piece rises to an exciting high point.
Another fact that inspired me as I began working on the piece was its size. It is 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide. I used the numbers 6 and 3 to represent melodic intervals so you should notice that there are a number of 3rds and 6ths in the melody. (I used the 0 to represent a step or change of direction in the melody).
If I were to describe a plot line that was the inspiration for the mood of this piece it would be something like this: Imagine standing at the base of the Arch looking up at the top. Then, suddenly you were able to slowly and silently lift from the ground and view the Arch from any angle or height. This piece is about that imaginary trip. Floating, circling, viewing - EXHILARATION at the top - and settling back to the ground with a new perspective and respect for the structure and the men who built it.
Flowers For Algernon Suite
Dear Scott Porter and the 2006-2007 Conard High School Concert Jazz Band
I cannot tell you how much it means to a composer to have an experienced group such as yours offer me the opportunity to compose a new work. This means that both you and I have entered into a commitment to make something come alive that has never existed before. We need each other to do this and for that I so am grateful to you. When Mr. Porter asked me to consider this commission I wanted to tell as story as well as use some musical ideas not often used in public school jazz compositions. When my own school began to work on the stage production of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon I knew I had the story to tell. Charlie Gordon’s journey is universal to human existence – not in the literal sense in that everyone has had Charlie Gordon’s “operation” – but that we all seem to identify with his emotional, intellectual, and spiritual turmoil.
I. Nice, Not Nice
Charlie’s new-found sensibilities confirm that his “friends” are not all his friends.
He begins to see the difference between people that are “Nice” and “Not Nice”.
Melancholy sets in
II. Inkblot No. 1
Charlie takes his first Rorschach inkblot test.
He cannot see anything but Inkblots in the tests. He is confused and frustrated.
Charlie races Algernon in the maze and finally wins.
Charlie is “Amazed”
IV. Inkblot No. 2
A later Rorschach test reveals more to Charlie than to his doctors.
The future is revealed in the past!
V. It Just Ain’t Right
An old woman named Fanny Birden, thinks Charlie's condition "ain't right" and wishes he could return to "the good simple man" he had been. She believes “you just can’t mess with what God gave you at birth” so when Charlie becomes a
Three Climates of Man’s Existence - I Desert
"Three Climates of Man’s Existence” is a multi-movement suite that combines the elements of world music with contemporary world rock counterparts. The first movement is Desert and has been commissioned by the Fairport High School Jazz Ensemble I under the extremely capable direction of Bill Tiberio for their pending performance trip to China to play for the Summer Olympics.
The overall background of the piece is very interesting. A student of mine at Canandaigua Academy – Brad DaBoll-Lavoie (now an anthropology major at PITT and plays tuba in the marching band and concert band) did an independent study in my Music Perception and Analysis course. He had read a book that sought to described the differentiation the culture of man within the context of temperate zones around the world. In this project Brad wanted to see if music could be defined similarly within the context of climate.
To research this Brad looked at three clearly separate climates and analyzed /
transcribed three pieces of folk music from 3 distinct temperate zones. As a control of sorts he also analyzed pieces from the modern world rock industry that was performed by bands that claimed to be from the cultures studied.
At the conclusion of the analysis and transcription process we worked together to write a 3 movement work that combined the elements of specific folk and contemporary rock songs from The Desert, The Plains, and, The Rainforest. Brad served as consultant on stylistic and formal attributes critical to his study and I acted as orchestrator, arranger and musical consultant. Desert is complete at this time.
The current arrangement of Desert represents a more developed version of Brad’s original work and does not necessarily represent his exact intentions at the completion of the research project. I have, however enhanced and expanded the original work to be consistent with my values as an artist and educator. For example, I add modal development in the solo section, developed background and melodic motifs, and sought to shape the arrangement so that it communicated additional tension and release.
Brad also created a very informative power point presentation that describes his findings. That presentation will be posted soon.
Chloe’s Tears Suite
SELECT LITERATURE THAT TELLS A STORY … WITH SINCERE MUSICAL VOCABULARY
At a recent workshop I had the good fortune to have “extra time” with a mature group of High
School Musicians. After the regular clinic and sectionals we all moved into another room and
began to talk about how I begin to think about a new composition. The students were eager and it turned out that we all got much more than we bargained for. At the end of this blog is the moral of the story. Here is an abridged account of that “workshop”.
If you have seen the movie the prestige – I thought I would structure this as an illusionist would – divided into three parts – 1. The Pledge - 2. The Turn – and 3. The Prestige.
1. THE PLEDGE – “What I will do today”
As the students entered the room I guided them into a semi-circle. No one was to have a music
stand in front of them and everyone was to be able to see and hear everyone else. I told the
group that we were going to start a new composition and I wanted to let them know how I would
begin to search for a subject and what I would do with that idea. I also told them that I would give
them this composition when it was completed in the hopes that they would perform it one day and
have it mean a great deal to them.
I began by describing the 5 questions I need to have answered before I can begin to seriously
write a new composition. These 5 questions have come to indirectly from Bob Brookmeyer
through good friend and mentor Dave Rivello (Eastman School of Music).
The 5 Questions are:
1. What is the PURPOSE for writing?
2. What is the LENGTH of the composition?
3. What are the FORCES used to forward your idea?
4. What is the MICRO MATERIAL of the composition?
5. What is the HIGH POINT of the composition?
After a brief description of each “question” I noted that it is impossible for me to begin
writing a piece without answering 1-4 (sometimes 5 comes to me later) and that - in fact - musicians
should always seek out literature that can be understood from the perspective of the 5 “questions” so that they can understand what they are playing and how and why they are playing it! I then politely challenged the students to challenge their director to select literature (yes - Jazz Literature) that had at least a PURPOSE (a story to tell).
We all agreed that music was something that demanded a reason for being as it has the power to explain the unexplainable. I had just spent some time with Conductor – Composer – Educator - Patriot - Stephen Melillo (Stormworks – www.stormworld.com ). Steve uses this line – “if pictures are worth a thousand words – then music is worth a thousand pictures”. This is so true! I have often maintained that music is a way for us to practice and experience emotions (good or bad) in a safe way so that we can recognize and process them when they enter our life.
After the introduction to the writing process I proposed two examples of recent subjects I have – or am
currently writing music about. One is the book by Daniel Keyes “Flowers for Algernon” the other is a
vignette of James McBride’s “The Color of Water” for an upcoming author visit to my school..
2. THE TURN – “What would you like to write about?”
I asked the students to go around the room and describe something from their life that they
would like to experience in music. They had the opportunity to “pass” if they wished -and were
allowed to raise their had if they thought of something after they did “pass” on their opportunity to
forward an Idea.
After several “passes” Student A presented this compelling idea.
“I am from Maryland and I was in a band with several other kids my age. We would sit in a circle just like this and think about a subject or an idea. The first person to play something would be the first idea in the music – and so on. The piece would grow through the process. We wouldn’t. play anything until we felt is was right to play. I miss doing that”
We discussed this and how it could be turned into a composition. I had the Pianist play a C2 on
an incredible Steinway piano in the corner of the room and asked the students to listen carefully
to that sound. At first they only listened part of the time and made some joke about hearing
each other breath. We tried it again and the students were amazed to hear the C morph into a G
– and then another C and then E and finally Bb. It was a powerful example of listening and reflection. Music should have that quality. The ability to draw you into its story.
Then we moved on to Student B.
“My family is a lot like James McBride’s family. I am one of 11 kids. Things can be silent around the
house one moment and then there can be an interruption and very confusing the next moment. I
would like to write something that has a lot of activity. Something that is unsettled and always
moving – always shifting.
We discussed this and how it could be turned into a composition –and how that was the same
and different than Student A – We talked about how they could be the same composition.
Then we moved on to Student C.
“Everything was really going well in my life –
and then, a few months ago my father unexpectedly passed away….”
As a “clinician” I had been “tricked” by circumstance. This was not suppose to happen! But as a person – as an educator - everything I believed about music now was meeting the real world head on - Voices quickly echoed in my head as I struggled for the right thing to say –
“if pictures are worth a thousand words – then music music is worth a thousand pictures”.
“music is a way for us to practice and experience emotions (good or bad) in a healthy way – so that we can recognize and process them when they do enter our life”
So we began to talk about a piece of music that would help us to understand.
Music that –
1. Would account for a state of emotion that was static – settled and….
2. Music that could take several paths – reflecting the performer’s need to tell a story
3. Seemed to collect tears into pools
4. Looked at change in life as the ripples in a pool of water….. tells our story
5. ……tells Chloe’s story …..
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
* Look for music that tells a story.
* Value music by the story it tells.
* Perform music as if it is your story.
* The story is VERY important to someone.
I wrote “Chloe’s Tears” this summer - please listen
The micro material for this suite comes from Fibonacci series pitch sets. I wanted to use these scales because the Fibonacci series represents so many beautiful patterns in nature and the ratio between the numbers eventually creates the golden ration - proportion that has been used over the centuries to create beautiful artwork and architectural marvels.
To “discover” the scales I assigned each pitch of the chromatic scale a number as post tonal theory might dictate (C was assigned 0).
Therefore, the series Fibonacci series beginning with 1 and adding 1 would be 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89. (I called this 1:1 which probably is an incorrect label) I then selected pitches based on their distances from each other starting with C (or 0). This yielded the ordered pitch set C, C#, D, E, F# G, G#, A, B.
I found it most interesting to place the pitches in the order in which they appeared in the Fibonacci series:
C C# D E G C G# A F# E B
This took advantage of the ever widening intervals created by the series. Removing duplicates created an even more interesting combination of pitches and intervals:
C C# D E G G# A F# B
Next I looked for triads within the pitch set. In this set C, A, E, D, G major exist. Finally, I ordered the set into a strings of consecutive 4ths and 5ths.
I went through this process for pitch sets 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, 1:5, 1:6, 1:7, and 1:8. Some had very colorful results and the ones that sounded most appropriate for the meaning of each movement were reserved for that piece.
This type of “extrapolation” of pitches and intervals allowed me the opportunity to create some “fresh” colors for this suite.
I. A Storm Has Plan You Don’t Get at First
II. A Tear Has A Story To Tell Long After it is Gone
III. The Tearful Things The Wind Has to Tell Should Be Better Understood
IV. Hope is a Red Petal Wondering What All The Fire Is About
V. We Shall Always Be Able to Say Soon
Day Is Done
Travel to Win The Hearts of Others - Not Trophies
* August 26, 2008 – 5:50 pm
* Posted in Philosophy
HOW TO STRUCTURE YOUR NEXT MUSIC TRIP - I am a composer and a “niche publisher” but at the core of my professional life I am a public school teacher. This will be my 28th year of teaching - 17 of them in the Canandaigua City School District in Canandaigua, NY.
After over 25 “band trips” and “music department trips - most of them to Virginia Beach - for a festival and yearly program evaluation, our department ventured into new territory. NO TROPHIES
Below is an article from our school website about the trip. It changed our lives - and hopefully added to the lives of others.
Passing the Torch
Passing the Torch
The students and teachers of the Canandaigua Academy Music Department have new goals for their annual spring trip to the Virginia Beach area, coming up April 24-28, 2008. A spectacular prism concert performance plan is the highlight.
“Our purpose has always been to travel far enough from home so that world class musicians and educators who have never heard us perform can provide a fresh perspective on our musical and technical development,” says Tom Davis, CA Wind Ensemble Director and K-12 Music Curriculum Area Lead Teacher. “The Virginia Beach area is our favorite destination for many reasons and when we began to reevaluate our goals for the trip, it became clear to us that we should take the opportunity to perform before a real audience, not just evaluators.
“THE MUSIC“ Music is about communicating emotion from one person’s heart to another’s person’s soul,” Davis says. “So, in addition to our competition evaluations, we have created a very special concert for the veterans and military personnel of the VA Beach/Norfolk area, entitled Passing the Torch of Freedom. The whole project has taken on a wonderful life of its own!”
The concert will follow a “Prism Concert” setting (familiar locally from the holidays), in which the music flows seamlessly from piece to piece. “The glue that holds this type of program together is the transitional material,” says Davis, “which will be in the form of audio interviews from the WHOR radio special, Hampton Roads Heroes, produced by Michelle Gabrielle-Harrell.”
The title, Passing the Torch of Freedom, was inspired by the words of Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco, a passionate lecturer on patriotism who herself was imprisoned during WWII for helping Jews evade the Nazis. Davis worked with her and many other very special people from the Tidewater region to develop the project. Dame Sigillo Barraco will be the key speaker for the program. “Our students will meet some real-life heroes; people who shaped a significant part of our nation’s history – of world history!” Davis added.
Featured in that program are the words of WWII Veteran Colonel Edward Shames of 3rd Platoon Easy Company, Sam Ring of Newport News, who enlisted during WWII because his father was a POW, and Barry Willis Junior.
“These people are heroes,” reflected Davis, “but when you tell them that they dismiss the title. They insist that they just did what they had to do at the time they had to do it. But they ARE heroes to us because we all wonder - if put in their situation - whether we would act as courageously and without hesitation as they did.”
CA student musicians will also perform a world premier of “Am I condemned?” by Joe Sterner, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. The lyrics were written in captivity and describe a young man’s journey from the innocence of his youth to the intense emotional ordeal of survival as a prisoner of war. “I spoke with Mr. Sterner recently and learned so much about his musical intentions. We are doing our best to communicate his story as he would have it told,” Davis says. “His piece alone is worth hearing. After our conversation I now know that Mr. Sterner’s story must be told, and it promises to be a very moving performance. Our kids will be learning so much more than music!”
Passing the Torch of Freedom
A Patriotic Prism Concert for Those That Serve
Audio Interviews: Hampton Roads Heroes
Produced by Michelle Gabrielle-Harrell
“America” -arr. Darmon Meader
“Hymn to the Marines” -arr. Stephen Melillo
Selections from Ragtime –
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow
“In Remembrance” -arr. Eleanor Daley
“Day is Done” -arr. Tom Davis
“The Awakening” -Joseph Martin
“Weep No More” -David N. Childs
“Music from Gettysburg” -John Williams
“Am I Condemned?” -Joe Sterner arr. by Tom Davis
Speaker -Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco
“God Bless America” Irving Berlin
“Star” -arr. Stephen Melillo
Composer/Conductor Tom Davis
Tom Davis has been an educator for 33 years at the high school level. He has studied trumpet with Herb Mueller and Vincent DiMartino and has studied jazz improvisation and/or composition with Bill Dobbins, Rayburn Wright, Ramon Ricker, John LaBarbera, Steve Brown, Samuel Adler, Robert Morris, and Dana Wilson.
Mr. Davis currently has over 133 jazz and concert band compositions published through his independent publishing company TOM DAVIS MUSIC PUBLICATIONS as well as with Educational Programs Publications (EPP), Heritage Jazz Works (a division of Lorenz), Kendor Music, and Warner Brothers Publications, and ALfred Publications. His most recent commissions include, "Kiwu for Kalama Suite" - to benefit the village of Kalama, Kenya Water Project, "Home Again - a Tribute to Harvey Phillips" commissioned by Michael Salzman (Hofstra University), "With The Grain - Three Sculptures by Willard Stone" - for the Locust Grove, Oklahoma High School Band, "Via Crusis" commissioned by the Caston High School Band, Fulton, Indiana, and “Breathing” for the Newtown High School Band.
Davis is currently the K-12 Music Curriculum Area Lead Teacher and Director of Bands in the Canandaigua City School District. His Publishing Company, www.TomDavisComposer.com offers free exercises for high school and college jazz musicians. A public school band director in Canandaigua, New York, Davis earned his undergraduate degree in music education from Ithaca College and his Masters degree in Jazz and Contemporary Media from the Eastman School of Music. His prominent teachers and mentors include Rayburn Wright, Bill Dobbins, Manny Albam, Steve Brown, John LaBarbera, Ramon Ricker, and Vincent DiMartino and COMPOSER Stephen Melillo.