Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow, Snow, Snow!!!!

So, here in Maryland we usually get a little snow a few times each winter. Every other year or so we might get a snowfall that's at least a bit significant, say, 7-12 inches. About every 5-7 years we get a good one. Maybe 20-30 inches. Well, this winter we have received the mother load. There have been several snowfalls in the 4-6 inch range. In addition we had 20 inches in December, 30 inches just this past weekend and today, only the following Tuesday, we have snow coming down with potential accumulation of another 20+ inches!! Aaaaggghhh!!!! Will spring ever get here?
Well, spring is on the calender and will arrive whether it seems like spring or not. And perhaps this snow will all be gone by then. But perhaps not. But I have arrived at "Spring Rounds", the fouth part of the first half of Rite of Spring, Adoration of the Earth. And it will warm you right up.
I think perhaps this is my favorite section of Stravinsky's work. It is possibly the only section where one might say it is beautiful in the traditional sense of that word as it applies to music. It reminds me a lot of tango music. Not the old stuff from the 30's or 40's that you might hear played at a ballroom dance, but more like the tango nuevo style along the lines of Astor Piazzolla. It has a very haunting, mysterioso feel to it and is probably the part that most easily lends itself to a modern jazz treatment. There was a lot of figures that sounded totally "correct" exactly as they were when a rhythm section groove was put under it. As a matter of fact, I would say this piece has the best natural groove of all the parts of Rite of Spring.
For the intro I gave the trill from the flutes to two clarinets. The Eb and Bb clarinet line, which is the melody here in the intro, is covered by a flute, two flugels and guitar. The original line is nearly all quarter notes with a few half notes. I keep the sequence of pitches intact but change rhythms to add some syncopation. I also wrote it in 4/4 instead of all the 5/4, 7/4, 6/4, 5/4, etc. that Stravinsky used for who knows what reason. The melody doesn't necessarily imply those subdivisions. When the groove starts I have the drums establishing the time and feel by using mallets on the toms. This creates a very seductive, tango-ish atmosphere. The two part, off-beat figure in the bass clarinets and low strings is perfect "as is" for this vibe and I give it to the bones, who are in bucket mutes, and the guitar. The on-beat, two note part in violin II is covered by two clarinets and two flugel horns. There is is a little "break" figure that appears twice. This is covered by flute and soprano sax. The note sequence is again intact with a slight rhythm change. Two of the descending eighth notes become grace notes and more of an effect within the melody than an actual part of it. A scoop is added to the top note as well giving it a more mournful feel and is in keeping with the jazz style.
The on-beat and off-beat figures continue as the "theme" is introduced. It is played verbatim by flugels and clarinets. The bones eventually relinquish their off beat part to the piano and guitar. The bones now fatten the melody being played by flugels and clarinets. A piccolo part is also played in it's exact form by flute and soprano. This combination is high in pitch but has more warmth than is usually found in that register in a jazz band. At what would be bar 25 in the orchestra score I break from the form a bit. Here I give the piano chord changes to comp and give the bones some chordal/rhythmic figures not found in the score, but ones that would be common to big band writing. The "break" figure appears two more times. This time I re-inforced it with a bass clarinet. The last time leads into a full band chord held out for two measures followed by two measures of the rhythm section vamping on Eb min11 as a release.
At this point the soprano sax begins an improvised solo. As it progresses I introduce background figures of my own creation. A lot of them are "warm" clusters mixing brass and reeds. There are also falls and rips into notes for greater emotion. These are countered by some low, two part lines played by tenor sax, bari sax and trombones 3 & 4. I have to admit that a lot of what I was trying to do here was to capture the type of sonic ambience that Maria Schneider so readily creates in her music. Eight bars before the end of the solo is the biggest figure where all the horns come together for some hard, stacatto hits ending with a big fall. There is just abit of a release here and the different horn sections then trade around a quarter note triplet idea while the soprano wraps up it's solo.
At this point I'm back to covering the basic idea of what happens with the orchestra. The theme returns but is developed a bit by Stravinsky with added beats. I again keep things in 4/4 and keep the groove going. I cover the same ideas. This time I make the theme ever so slightly syncopated in places instead of playing it exact. This helps to create a bit more tension and excitement. The orchestra arrangement gets quite loud here and I follow those dynamics. At this point the piccolo trumpet, C trumpets, french horns and trombones come in with parallel #9 chords that are nearly deafening. I don't have the manpower to cover so many things so I give this to the trombones and ask them to do their best. I never thought I would write something where I'm asking players to blast, but here it is.
All this leads up to a big fermatta. Following this is a faster section with embellishment type flourishes in the high woodwinds as well as a figure in the strings using an effect that I'm sure has some high-brow name that I'm unaware of. They would be sawing back and forth hard as the line goes up and down with two 16th notes on each pitch. There are also some punches here as well. I cover the basic idea of the flourishes but play them at half the speed make them a "melody" that can be more easily followed by the ear. This is played by alto sax, two tenors and bari as well as guitar and the piano, which plays it in two octaves. This is much stronger than the flutes and clarinets from the orchestra version. All the hits are done by the brass. The drums are given a snare part that is sort of like a telegraph/evening news figure and provides a lot of tension and forward motion. The bass drum accents all the hits. The soprano rejoins the band eventually as well. It is covering piccolo trills.
After the last hit in the orchestra part a trill holds through and the intro figure is played again. Here I have the soprano play an improvised cadenza instead of the trill. This buys times for some trumpets to go to flugels as well as the other trumpets and all the bones to put in mutes. Now I score the intro figure with a different twist. The first is actually the result of a mistake. I thought I was looking at the flute part but was actually looking at the alto flute part so I ended up writing this whole ending section in the wrong key. Second, I harmonized it with tight voicings and a lot of parallel motion. I also come to fermattas in three places in the line and give the soprano a short, improvised fill at each. The key may be wrong, but it worked out well to get me back to an Eb min11 chord on the last note. This is again a fermatta with the bass playing arco and the piano doing a tremolo on two low Eb's in octaves. Now the soprano freely play a written fill based on the main theme and bring the tune to a close.
So, it may be Feb 9th, but I've just made my "Spring Rounds". It was warm and sensuous and at times a bit heated. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go shovel snow.

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