New composition (and early challenges)

I’ve begun work on a quartet for clarinet, bassoon, trombone and percussion.  For this piece, my first consideration was to start with a design for the overall structure – a procedure I have not used before.  Since the goal is to write a nine minute piece, I thought I’d divide the piece into nine one-minute chunks arranged in a 3×3 A-B-A’ structure.  The idea is to structure a 3-min A-B-A’ from and then triplicate it with variation.  Also, each one-minute chunk is itself divided into an A-B-A form, each portion intended to be around 20 seconds each.  The primary variation I have in mind for each of the three-minute sections is to interchange the roles of the three wind instruments, with the percussion having its own role for each section.  I’m really thinking about musical “gesture” in this piece and initial thoughts about the role for each wind – at least in the A sections – is to basically have one play fast note flourishes, the second play sparse shots with medium-fast notes and the third to play slow, sustained notes.  The percussion will play sparsely, punctuating the phrases and adding melodic interest.  In the B sections, the piece will emphasize melody with accompaniment – carried out by the winds – and a groove-based part in the percussion.  The A’ (or, perhaps, more appropriately C) section will reference the A in the winds but have the percussion playing melody.

As for more specific content, I was trying out a new chord progression I’ve been thinking of, with the hopes of deriving some melodic material.  However, after an extended session at the piano and making some notes on some chord voicings and melodic fragments, I discovered that what I really wanted would require a different instrumentation capable of delivering thicker, richer chords.  I abandoned this in favor of a rhythmic approach centered around a 12/8 time signature that includes references to a West African bell rhythm, Celtic jigs and jazz-funk.  I think after experiencing some frustration trying to be artistic and experimental with my chord progression idea – which I’m sure I’ll come back to in another piece – I acquiesced to doing something totally fun.  I haven’t yet used jazz or ethnic music material in a chamber music piece (i.e. a piece that isn’t in either of those traditions) and with approaching things from a design perspective I’m off into new sound worlds, which is very exciting!

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