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Concerto for Steelpan and Wind Ensemble

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Dave’s Spring 2011 “to do” list:

  • start awesome podcast about new music
  • build a sweet digital instrument/controller
  • write a concerto for steelpan and wind ensemble
  • solve world hunger
  • cure cancer
  • secure well-paying, intellectually/artistically rewarding, emotionally satisfying tenure-track position in academia

Not this kind of steel pan.

As of this morning, I’m half-way through those goals. Today, I turned in my dissertation piece, Concerto for Steelpan and Wind Ensemble. I struggled for a long time with what to call it, but I decided that the instrumentation itself is one of the most striking features. So I thought the rather prosaic form-title would suffice. Details? You want details. I got your details right here:

Score PDF

Here are some computer realizations. They range from bad to downright misleading, but I’m ok with that for now. I’ve still got my fingers crossed for a good performance in the next year or so. The pan part is played on piano sounds. Trust me. You do NOT want to hear MIDI steelpan.

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Speaking of performances, I’m quite hopeful on that front. I’ve spoken with MSU Director of Bands Kevin Sedatole about the piece. He seems interested. I’ve also corresponded with Liam Teague, arguably the best steelpan soloist in the world. My teacher, Ricardo Lorenz also knows Liam. And that’s probably the reason I’m most confident about getting the work performed. Apart from being an excellent composer and teacher, Dr. Lorenz is probably the strongest advocate I’ve ever had. I’m sure that he’ll be in the ears of both Sedatole and Teague. (On the off-chance that you’re reading this, Dr. Lorenz, thanks for going to bat for me all those times over the last five years.) Additionally, the wind ensemble director at the University of Missouri, Tom O’Neal has expressed an interest in performing the piece. My good friend Skip Thompson, another excellent steelpan soloist and former student of Teague, is in residence there working on a M.M. in percussion.

If you’re curious, here are my program notes:

Steelpan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, is not an obvious choice for a concerto instrument. However, there are many composers and players working to build a classical repertoire for pan. There are many chamber works that include pan, and even a small handful of concerti, notably, by Jan Bach (1994) and more recently, Libby Larsen (2004). My research leads me to believe that this is the first concerto for steelpan with wind ensemble.

Pan has a sound profile unlike any other instrument I know. For that reason, I open the concerto with a timbre sampling of the ensemble, punctuated with the pan for comparison. The melody presented by the pan beginning in m. 15 of the first movement is only the first statement of a theme that informs nearly all of the melody, harmony, and counterpoint of the concerto. Of the three movements, the first pits the pan most strongly against the ensemble, emphasizing the uniqueness of its sound. This movement also focuses most strongly on the relationship between the pan and the percussion section.

The second movement is more texturally dense. The pan floats over a bed of loosely imitative counterpoint, which thickens throughout the movement. The soloist has the opportunity to “stretch out” over cadenzas, including an optional improvisation. Because the range and layout of steelpans are not completely standardized, the improvisation allows the soloist to exploit the peculiarities of the instrument being used.

The final cadenza of the second movement, which includes the optional improvisation, connects directly to the final movement of the concerto. In m. 5, the pan presents the clearest statement of the theme on which the whole work is based. This movement is the shortest of the three, a succinct and groove-based wrap-up to the complete concerto. The rhythms and textures refer to jazz, a familiar genre to many steelpan players. The pan concludes with a virtuosic flourish (mm. 88-94) before a cool and casual exit.

 

 

 

  • Matt

    Dave! The piece rocks! I can’t wait to hear a real performance of it. I love all the motivic stuff going on, especially the bits that are barely noticeable in the score, yet come through even in the MIDI realization.

    • David MacDonald

      Thanks, Matt! I’m really glad you liked it, and I’m particularly pleased that you were able to make some of those motivic connections. Like I said, I’m optimistic about the chances of a performance in the next year or two.