Monday, June 28, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

Last weekend I had the opportunity to record my latest big band chart, "Smoke and Mirrors", with Tony Hyde's Equinox Jazz Orchestra in Medford, MA (just outside Boston.) The band included such heavy hitters as drummer Vinny Pagano and saxophonists John Mastroianni and Dino Gavoni. It was a treat to hear the piece played by these professionals.

I spent a lot of time revising the work since its debut in May. Many passages were re-orchestrated and I redistributed much of the solo work.

I sometimes visualize dramatic scenarios when composing, with characters interacting with one another.  For this piece I pictured a person in a position of power and influence who was living with a deep, dark secret. If revealed, he knew this secret would derail and destroy every aspect of his life and affect the lives of literally hundreds of people.  After living with the secret for many years, it became public and his worst fears became reality.

“The secret” is musically represented throughout the piece by the following 12-tone row:


Employing 12-tone compositional techniques without the music sounding overtly atonal was my compositional goal and "secret". The row has many characteristics of a tonal melody, with leaps followed by stepwise motion and some melodic sequencing. The row was manipulated and presented in various forms, using transposition, inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion – all of which can be found in the matrix below.  P = prime, I = inversion, R = retrograde and RI = retrograde inversion.  These techniques are clearly explained within the Wikipedia entry entitled "Twelve-Tone Technique".


I wish the scenario I described above were imagined. Sadly it is not.  My church pastor (and friend) was living a secret life.  Last year, his secret was revealed and it nearly destroyed the church.  This devastating blow threw a thriving, effective, growing community into a state of mere survival. A capable, inspiring leader was sidelined, and several friends became disheartened and stopped attending. Through this piece of music I have tried to communicate some of what I have observed, felt and experienced through this horrible, sad ordeal.  Despite the mathematical techniques employed, I think I have written a heartfelt, emotionally stirring, musical response.

The piece, "Smoke and Mirrors" will be performed by the Hartford Jazz Society's "New Directions Ensemble" on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. in Bushnell Park.  A follow-up performance is slated for Monday, Aug. 9th at the Black-eyed Sally's night club, starting at 8 p.m.

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