Through the Tunnels and Back
Symphony Orchestra (188.8.131.52 / 184.108.40.206 / Timp + 2 Perc. / Harp / Strings)
(Recording performed by the Brazosport Symphony Orchestra in Lake Jackson, TX)
Through the Tunnels and Back is a tone poem at its core. It revolves around a simple, perhaps fantastical concept, of a journey. It begins by being present in the open air full of life, color, and awe. The initial environmental idea is portrayed by a very clear melody that is stated multiple times in the strings, becoming thicker and louder as the opening section progresses. It is immediately stopped short by a heavily contrasting section that focuses more on mischievous and almost devious qualities. Thinking of fantasy or fiction, this section might reflect a squad of goblins or a group of imps that inhabit the mysterious tunnels of this imaginary world.
Suggested by the title, the piece then returns to the first and primary theme (...and Back) in traditional ternary fashion via new orchestration and a sense of closure. Ultimately, the piece is designed to be nothing but a musical journey, created to provide listeners with sheer musical pleasure as they adventure “...Through the Tunnels and Back.”
On the Threshold of Spring
Wind Symphony (Grade 4)
(Recording performed by Northern Symphonic Winds of Charlevoix, MI)
On the Threshold of Spring is all about the transition from Winter into Spring. As a child on the east coast, Spring was always my least favorite season. All I ever thought about when March rolled around was allergies. "Ugh...here come the itchy eyes," I'd always say. Now that I've experienced the everlasting winters of the Little Traverse Bay, I've officially begun yearning for Spring. "YES! 45-degree rain! Warmth!"
When Spring finally rolls around, there's a certain magic in the air. The ice crystals melt off the tree branches, the constant snow transforms into the occasional rain, and the massive snow banks become rivers, feeding the unearthed foliage. Not to mention the beautiful rays of the sun return after months of cloud-cover. Almost instantaneously, the locals' moods are uplifted. Spring becomes a talking point for weeks, primarily about how everyone is thrilled of its arrival.
However, the transition doesn't come without its difficulties. The warm-but-not-warm-enough temperatures, the potential of dangerous flash floods due to the snow accumulation, the very wet and muddy grounds that come with snow-melt, and everything in between. Underneath it all, though, is the great anticipation of when the season settles; when the region becomes a gateway to the thousands of resorters who come to relax each year.
On the Threshold of Spring is ultimately an homage to the arrival of springtime air in Northern Michigan (although you might hear "second winter" that we so often experience). I love it here, and I hope this piece reflects my joy for the highly anticipated change of seasons.
A Tale of Separation
(Recording performed by Temple University Youth Prep Orchestra)
A Tale of Separation, at its surface, is a piece that manipulates a compositional idea of unison and division in terms of pitch. For example, the Violin I, II, and Viola section may be playing a single pitch, only to then momentarily split off (and perhaps return to that previously unified pitch shortly thereafter). It's a simple concept, but one to which I wanted to dedicate an entire piece.
One of the greatest challenges I have ever faced in life is both beautiful and heartwrenching at the same time. I was engaged to my wife for almost a year upon completing the composition process of this piece. However, she lived nearly 850 miles away. Our relationship began from a distance with occasional weeks or months of physical togetherness through travel. That being said, I wanted to reflect both the beauty and the pain of our engagement. Being in love is a wonderful part of life; yet, being separated for weeks and months on end becomes emotionally tasking.
A Tale of Separation, at its core, is a piece of music that reflects the bittersweet love Maria and I went through upon each time we saw each other in person during those difficult months. Ultimately, we ended in togetherness through marriage.
Suite from Kharon's Crypt
Symphony Orchestra (220.127.116.11 / 18.104.22.168 / Timp + 2 Perc. / Optional Choir / Harp / Strings)
(Recording performed by the National Video Game Orchestra of Wales, a student ensemble at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Dance).
Kharon's Crypt is an eerie dungeon crawler game in-development by Andromeda Project. It's full of puzzles, riddles, and deadly challenges, and graphics designed to follow the aesthetics of the beloved Game Boy Color. In Kharon's Crypt, you'll be playing as Kharon (a being thought to be death itself) in his mission to escape from the crypt where he had been sealed by a deranged king that wanted to elude death.
As Kharon, your abilities are flying, going through physical objects, and weaken your enemies in order to take possession of their bodies. To defeat your opponents and escape from the crypt, you'll need to steal the bodies of your enemies, all of which have different functions and abilities. You'll be able to fly over chasms in a bat's body, fight from inside a sword-wielding skeleton, or even take control of rats in order to squeeze through the smallest of passageways!
Suite from Kharon's Crypt is a medley of three of the primary tracks heard in the game: Kharon's Ascent (Main Theme), The Second Stairwell (Dungeon Floor #2), and Encountering the Beast (Big Boss Battle). All three of these tracks are public online, and can be heard as they're implemented in-game with their 8-bit/16-bit instrumentation. Most of the soundtrack (especially the main theme) is inspired by Bach's organ writing, particularly his brilliantly designed canons and fugues. As an example, a short canon takes place in the main theme between a solo oboe and bassoon. You may also hear fragments of the main theme throughout the other two movements. With eerie, haunted, spooky, and creepy as the driving moods behind the game, filled with castles, crypts, ghosts, and ghouls, the soundtrack aims to reflect that atmosphere with pipe organ-like counterpoint.
(Recording performed by the Bay View Wind Institute in Bay View, MI)
WHOA! is inspired by Two Roads, a simple poem my wife Maria wrote many, many years ago about her late paint horse unexpectedly bolting during a ride in the wilderness. Over the hills and through the woods is an understatement regarding Forte's sudden sprint. Starting off with a simple walk, the energetic creature sent Maria into a whirlwind of a short-but-rapid adventure, ultimately coming to a stop with a fired-up horse eager to return home. Twists and turns, unexpected meter changes, and melodic interruptions. Flute flourishes, horn rips, and clarinet glissandi. Dodging branches and fallen trees. A walk to a gallop and a gallop to a halt. These are but a few of the many ideas interspersed, creating a sonic scenario that will throw you onto the back of a charging horse.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.
Rapidly we approached, he was charging
as strong as a warrior into battle.
“Whoa!” I commanded, but the fire
I rode upon misunderstood.
Pulling back, pressuring his mouth,
I wasn’t trying to ruin his fun–
but the beast’s euphoria disagreed
on this spontaneous run.
Down and sideways, up and out, four hooves defied
gravity while two feet met with earth.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and beside my horse I now stood.
Looking Down from Above
Viola & Piano
(Recording performed by Michael Hall, viola, and Michael Delfin, piano)
Looking Down from Above is a piece inspired by flying, observing the ocean from a birds-eye view. When Michael Hall commissioned a new piece for viola and piano, with an included fascination about the topic of flight, my mind fiddled with multiple ideas. Soaring above the ocean, however, is something that's always captivated me. Whether it's in a plane, or simply an imaginative thought of what seagulls see on a daily basis, there's a grandeur to the sea that is unmatched.
Place yourself above the ocean with no airborne machinery or vehicles in sight. What do you hear? Wind? An occasional blow of air from a whale or dolphin? Birds cawing? Silence? There is a certain stillness to the air surrounding the open waters. But underneath the waves exists so much movement and life, that humans rarely see on a frequent basis. Truly, there is so much humans don't know about the ocean that it's both terrifying and thrilling. And to think that when soaring above barely-traveled territory on a calm, sunny day, there is such a quiet surrounding the sea.
Within the music you will hear the calm of the ocean air, the joy of viewing the open waters, and the majesty of knowing what lies beneath.
(Recording performed by Megan Ihnen)
Willa Cather's Prairie Dawn caught me by surprise the more I read it. Interpreting it first as simply a painted picture of a Nebraska sunrise, etchings of nostalgia burst forth as I began composing the music. Perhaps my mind comprehended words like "pungent," "stirring," or "lance" as sharp or potent. Angry, even. I felt shades of frustrated homesickness rooted in the otherwise straightforward text.
When reminiscing old memories of home, my mind tends to repeat or "replay" specific moments within a single image. With nostalgia, there's often a sense of pain involved. My mind becomes focused on the fact that I can't relive good memories; gone forever and unable to return. It's through this sensation upon reading Cather's text as to why I included whispers, sprechstimme, and even prolonged moments of silence. Recalling a beautiful memory can be both a moment of joy and sorrow. A juxtaposition of pleasure and frustration.
PRAIRIE DAWN (Willa Cather):
A crimson fire that vanquishes the stars;
A pungent odor from the dusty sage;
A sudden stirring of the huddled herds;
A breaking of the distant table-lands
Through purple mists ascending, and the flare
Of water ditches silver in the light;
A swift, bright lance hurled low across the world;
A sudden sickness for the hills of home.