Bridgeway Stonegate Concert Band
To Celebrate Life commission
In Spring, 2018, The Bridgeway Stonegate Concert Band (Sacramento, CA - Delores Henson, Director) commissioned Jeffrey Hoover to create a new work in honor of the shooting victims and people of the community of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Here Jeffrey Hoover writes about the journey in creating his new work, with its performance in Fall, 2018. This blog includes the composer's thoughts, students' input, and audio samples of the music as it evolved.
In March, Delores Henson, the Director of the Bridgeway Stonegate Concert Band
asked me about the possibility of writing a new band composition in honor of the of the school shooting victims and people of Parkland, Florida. She approached the Band Parents group and received enthusiastic support this project. Delores and I had discussed the band's instrumentation and possible characteristics of the music.
I had the opportunity to meet with the students of each of the four bands that comprise the combined Bridgeway Stonegate Band. Such fire! I heard them play music they were working on - music they wanted to play for me and were enthusiastic about.
We had great conversations! The students wanted to do something significant (and healing) in honor of the people in that tragedy and they want to do it through music. Two important questions that popped up several times were 1) what would the music sound like and 2), how long would it take to write it? I did my best to describe my process and answer those questions. While I generally have no difficulty describing my music, it's a challenge to talk about something that is not yet formed.
I needed to hear what the students wanted to achieve in this project. Here are some of their thoughts:
The Purpose - to let people know we care about them, we support them, and together we are stronger; to bring awareness to the situation that occurred and through awareness help prevent this from happening again, by helping individuals who need our help.
The Title - we talked about the title and have agreed that TO CELEBRATE LIFE reflects the purpose of this music.
The Music - memorable melody; energetic and hopeful; happiness, sadness, and even anger; moments of thoughtfulness; music with good contrasts; echoing and with a sense of distance at times; music that reflects the cultural diversity and identity of the students in the Bridgeway Stonegate Concert Band
The end of the school year is approaching and progress is being made on the composition. I've written three ideas or musical themes I'll be working with in this composition. These reflect in some way many of the ideas the students had for what they wanted the music to project. Because they are basic ideas, they may change as the composition work proceeds. I've named these three themes to help myself keep track of them as I compose: TIME, LIFE, and THOUGHT.
Progress continues on the composition. Students originallyasked me "How long will it take to write the piece?" I've taken a page out of Beethoven's book, so to speak, and I've gone on some "long walks" to think about the music. (Beethoven used to go on long walks and think about the music he was composing). My walks have not been literal walks, but I have been spending a little time away from this project (working on another project as well) and allowing my thoughts to do some of the work. During this time, I've resolved how the composition will operate and what it sounds like.
With three well-balanced and engaging musical themes-- TIME, LIFE theme, and THOUGHT --I've realized how they can fit together and can actively relate to one another. The draft of the composition is now completed.
HOW THIS MUSIC WORKS: The first third of the composition is about how TIME and LIFE fit together, followed by THOUGHT, with a conclusion illustrating this symbolic and musical interaction between the three themes. What's important here is not the intellectual construction but rather the emotional connections between us and the music and how the three themes guide us in our thinking and feeling. WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT THAT THERE'S AN ORDER AND STRUCTURE TO THIS? It's the musical FORM or ARCHITECTURE that allows us to move through a composition, in the same way the architecture of a building allows us to move between rooms and enjoy and benefit from the purpose of being in that building. Connections between spaces allow us to do things in the building, and connections between musical ideas allow us to experience how music takes us places intellectually and emotionally. Having the music in this order (and the way it sounds) helps us to have that experience of motion and change.
As you listen to this track, you'll notice how TIME and LIFE are both interacting and overlapping. Because this is still a draft, there are some additional things I need to do to finish shaping this (adding a few instruments, etc.) but the important thing is you can hear the relationship between the ideas. I realized that INTERACTION is important to this piece, not merely presenting ideas in their own section of the composition as some other compositions may. This symbolizes how we can relate to each other as people.
The composition continues, with the THOUGHT theme (you've heard this theme before) emerging in the second section of the composition. The more expansive character contrasts with the crisp punctuations of TIME, and the shape of LIFE.
BOTH INTERACTION AND CONTRAST (think of this as "musical diversity") are important. In the same way we are different as people, we can interact and come together and work together to create a larger picture for life.
Beginnings and endings are important in musical compositions. This ending is created from a small fragment of the LIFE theme - just a few notes - but provides the musical punctuation needed to conclude the piece.
THE NEXT STEP - now that the composition has been sketched/drafted, I'll flesh out a few details and I'll meet with Mrs. Henson, the Band Director, and talk with her about her thoughts at this point. Because I'm using computer technology to typeset the music, I have synthesized these demonstration clips. I'll synthesize a filmscore-style demo of the entire composition and we'll use this along with the score for our conversation.
I met with Mrs. Henson and talked with her at length about TO CELEBRATE LIFE. We spent two hours reviewing every detail of the score and talked about ways the music could to be even better. One thing she mentioned that she liked about the work was the "tone poem" approach I had taken in writing the music. In the 19th century, there were several famous tone poems that were composed. In these, the composer tried to create in sound the same feelings that a poem would have on a person: telling a story and expressing emotion. With the three themes that interact and the emotional push of the music, TO CELEBRATE LIFE is indeed a new tone poem for band. After our meeting, I was able to make further edits to further improve the music as a composition overall and as band score from a technical perspective.
Here is an electronic demo of the entire piece. It will receive its official premiere on the band's December 2018 concert. It was an honor to compose this new work, and as much music I've written in my life, I feel I continued to grow as a composer through this composition.
A Concluding Thought
Thank you for taking the time to follow the development of TO CELEBRATE LIFE.
I'm reminded of something important a great musician once said about how we can respond to violence through the arts. On Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. President Kennedy was a supporter of the arts and spoke passionately of their importance and value to society. On the Monday after the assassination, Leonard Bernstein (American composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic) spoke at an important annual event in New York City. Addressing this tragedy, Bernstein said "...This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before..."
And this is what the students of the Bridgeway Stonegate Concert Band have done: they called out for a new composition to express themselves through music, making known their response to the violence that occurred in Parkland, Florida, and other places since. I know the Bridgeway Stonegate band members will play this new piece with all their ability and passion, and through this they will let people know "they are not alone."
If you have any questions or thoughts about this music, please feel free contact me directly. Thank You. Jeffrey Hoover