Scenes from a Life Danced

Grade 6 | Duration 13:00

Scenes From a Life Danced
     I. Greeting and Tarantella
     II. A Young Girl’s Dream of Ballet
     III. Janus Dance
     IV. Silly Walks and Farewell

Scenes from a Life Danced, commissioned by the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble, Dr. Andrew Mast, conductor, was premiered by these wonderful musicians on May 17, 2008.

Scenes from a Life Danced is a suite of four dance movements that emerged following the passing of my niece, Kaitlin Elizabeth Mahr, in November 2007. Perhaps foremost among the many things that engaged Katie’s artistic, intellectual and physical senses was the freedom and creative expression found in dancing. From her earliest years she was on the move, having discovered in dance that delicate balance of “Hey, look at me!” and the meaningful release of spirit and energy. One got the idea that dance was always more to her than just having fun, although that joyful aspect was certainly at its core.

The first movement, Greeting and Tarantella, introduces the dancer to the listener. Quiet music captures the serenity found when dancers are in repose; that state where one perceives great potential within a calm inner strength. As I worked with this idea, it became apparent I was perhaps writing a tarantella, a centuries-old dance form featuring music that increases in tempo and vivaciousness as it moves forward.

Until she began attending Lawrence University, Katie participated each December in a local ballet production of The Nutcracker. As she grew older, she envisioned herself dancing the roles she saw the older members enjoying. A Young Girl’s Dream of Ballet finds the dancer in her final role, “The Arabian Dance.” Here, I modeled the music directly after the Tchaikovsky, mimicking the repetitive pattern, the melodic contours and the harmonic progressions found in this dance, although viewing it through a dream-like prism that altered these elements.

The music for the third movement emerged as a combination of two very different moods and energies, and came out of me quickly, freely and without any warning. Janus Dance is titled after the mythical Roman god who has two faces to help him watch over doorways, beginnings and endings. Uneasy music opens the dance, delivering quick energy that seems unstable due to its augmented harmonies and confused with its tonal clusters. What happens next came as a complete surprise to me. It’s some kind of modern, urban techno-dance, generated from the opening chord progressions of the first movement — music quite different from anything I’ve written before.

Silly Walks and Farewell is an exploration of a tune that came to me while walking our dog. I knew that the Melee dance troupe at Lawrence University (of which Katie was a member) was going to dance to portions of this work at the premiere, and I saw this as a chance to provide music for the dancers to enjoy life as Katie did, perhaps even improvising a silly walk just for the pure enjoyment of it. The opening section of this movement is jazzy, playful and has a bit of an attitude about it (like Katie). At the end of this music, the sound of an uplifting, fully-voiced chord chimes out 20 times, once for each of Katie’s years among us, interrupting the liveliness of the dance. Gentle music, recalling the opening of the piece, returns briefly as a farewell, quoting at the very end a bit of the piano music I wrote for Katie as a Christmas present in 2001. The final tones drift away from our world to the next.

This recording is by the St. Olaf Band with the composer conducting.

See the full score below. Suggested use:

Start playing the audio, then scroll down to the score and open it.  Expand the score to full page and adjust more if needed for your viewing situation.   While viewing the score, drag from the left to the right.  The arrows change two pages at a time.