…searching for… orchestra
Duration: 11 (4 + 7) minutes
Instrumentation: large orchestra
Recording is a splice of NotePerformer rendering and a reading session by the Oberlin Orchestra.
...searching for... explores the feeling of looking for or chasing something that you can't quite obtain, whether it's a simple scrap of plastic in the wind or some inner psychological need. The music repeatedly finds itself swept into a new place, tries to find an answer or resolution, but fails and is thrown into the next.
The first movement, "light in the dark," is made up of three short episodes. After an unresolved, unraveling opening, fragments from later in the work organically coalesce like insects into a blinding swarm. The swarm is sucked like a vacuum into a sustained tone (the "light") which grows hopefully toward brightness but at the last second is disfigured and disappears into a looming storm cloud. The storm intensifies until the attack of the second movement, which snaps a tritone away and suddenly transports us to a new place.
The second movement, "over and over and over," is made up of many shorter cycles of 36 chords. For this, I used the progression at the end of Thomas Adès's piano solo Traced Overhead (...-sus4-maj-min-...). With the root ascending in fifths and the descending inner chromatic line, it creates a perpetual harmonic carousel. However, the hunger for speed and unending growth spins the piece into a vicious cycle of bursting bubbles—and brings its eventual demise.
The Convergence of the Twain choir
Duration: 8 minutes
Instrumentation: SATB w/ piano accompaniment
Performed on May 22, 2022 by the Oberlin College Choir, directed by Ben Johns. Here is an outline of the text-setting strategies I used!
Thomas Hardy wrote "The Convergence of the Twain" in 1912, ten days after the sinking of the Titanic. The event was surely a tragedy, especially considering that fewer third class passengers were rescued than those in the upper classes. However, Hardy hardly mentions the passengers and his rather cold interpretation characterizes the sinking as the inevitable punishment of greed, opulence, and power. I believe the text communicates an important secondary message for us today: as climate change increasingly affects our world, we must remember that the Earth is powerful and should be approached with care rather than domination. We must, as many cultures have been able to, coexist with the Earth in order to avoid subjecting humanity to the same fate as the Titanic.
The text and my setting of it follow a binary form: stanzas I-V portray the sunken state of the ship, while stanzas VI-XI go back to tell the story of its sinking. There are two predominant categories of textures: one is open, ethereal, and even cold to represent the ocean and nature; the other is full of structure, heat, and vitality to represent humans' attempted conquest. In addition to this textural dichotomy, the sopranos and altos often act as nature and the tenors and basses as humanity. Though this may be the opposite of what the text insinuates (the ship being "she"), it enables a critique of "masculine" exploitation of the Earth. The consonants ss and sh are ubiquitous in the vocal parts, often respectively symbolizing the sound of ship engines and ocean waves. The text is sometimes fragmented; for example, at B the slower "cold currents" consume the "steel chambers" and "fires" of the ship. The final section is a "drowning" of syllables, from ah to ooh to mm.
Harmonically, G is often the pitch center symbolizing nature, and the G Phrygian climax at rehearsal letter I, the moment the ship inevitably collides with the iceberg, is foreshadowed melodically and harmonically a few times. The "funeral march" progression of Chopin (i-VI-i) is used as well to symbolize the ship's death at letter A, m. 69, and the very end. In the second half of the piece, the key center slowly steps from Ab (even G, technically) up to Db, "snapping" back to G at the peak.
Ballade for Orchestra orchestra
Duration: 8 minutes
Instrumentation: Flute, 2 oboe, Bb clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, Bb trumpet, timpani, full strings