Symphony No. 1
Grade 5 | Duration 31:00
My Symphony No.1, commissioned by a consortium of 54 ensembles and premiered in 2016, is comprised of four movements. The first grew from pondering the challenge our nation and world have to come together rather than grow apart; the second is an acknowledgement of the need to focus on work that truly needs to be done; the third is a reverent appreciation of the love, respect, and joy to be found in others; and the last embodies hope, finding light within the darkness.
Each movement sprang from contemplating a specific phrase or quotation while searching for the music to capture these four sentiments.
I. E Pluribus Unum — “out of many, one” Once the motto of the United States
An introduction presents fragments of the principal musical ideas to be developed throughout the work, after which a main theme is stated. It becomes one of many as it goes through manipulations and variations. Much of the music is based on an overtone scale based on the keynote of F (an overtone scale is marked by a raised 4th and lowered 7th scale degree — F-G-A-B-C-D-E flat-F). These lead to a culminating unified statement that is strong and defiant.
II. “… to give up every favorite pursuit and lay their shoulder to the work of the day.” — Thomas Jefferson, in an 1803 letter to John Page, former classmate and governor of Virginia, describing the efforts made by the revolutionists who formed our democracy
Solos for flute and clarinet languish in a peaceful melancholy during the opening — the introspective, calm joy of a favorite pursuit. A pressing moment of realization inspires action and an energetic scherzo that derives its melodies and harmonies from the overtone scale ensues. Murky resistance and disorientation are encountered as the path forward is pursued. This is a busy music — it is about work being done. A moment of doubt creeps in, after which the determined hard work continues. A coda pushes the ending toward an agitated climax. Our work is not yet done — much more effort is needed.
III. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” — Paul, writing to the early Greek Christians in Philippi. Philippians 1:3 King James Version
The third movement brings the listener to a welcome place – calm and unhurried, with dissonance at bay. In this turbulent, confusing world, comfort and solace can be found within the close relationships with friends and our reflections upon shared experiences. How grateful we should be for those lovely sustaining memories. An emotional wave of joy and appreciation washes over. More memories return before the movement ends in light.
IV. “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a common paraphrase of a statement King made in his famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech of April 3, 1968. He said, “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.”
Lovely memories can sustain us, but we often rest uneasy under the burden of others. There is indeed a troubling darkness in this world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, the stars, perhaps representing hope, can be perceived from within this blackened depth. A salvation – a darkness-conquering light – can arrive as bursts of energy or gentle, all-encompassing washes to once again bring inner peace.
The project was formulated and implemented by Matthew Dehnel, Director of Bands at Roseville Area High School in Roseville, Minnesota. The work was premiered on November 17, 2016 with Maestro Dehnel leading the Roseville Area High School Symphonic Band. It is dedicated to my family, who sustain me with their love and encouragement.
This performance is by the Trinity University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, James Worman, conductor.
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