Two World Premieres

The Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble was fortunate to present two world premiere compositions for marimba ensemble on our spring concert March 19, 2013. We opened the concert with Inner Logic for marimba sextet by Christopher Hathcock. Chris is a Winthrop alum and currently serves as Director of Bands at Cheraw High School in Cheraw, SC (birthplace of Dizzy Gillespie). Here is what Chris says about his composition:

 “Inner Logic is the second movement of a larger work titled Doubt.  The entire work is an interpretation of the instinctual analytical side of people which we often refer to as doubt.  “Inner Logic” is a reflection of the rational side of our minds resolving cognitive dissonance.  This dissonance is represented through a frenetic pace littered with chromaticism and changing meter. The logic arrives in the mathematically composed 12-tone section which leads to a resolution (or understanding if you prefer) shown through a timbral and tonal shift.  But as with life, the finale introduces another similar but different dissonance that begins the process anew.  This piece was composed in honor of B. Michael Williams and the Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble, both of which were a boon to the composer.”

 

Chris Hathcock with Michael Williams following the premiere of "Inner Logic."

Chris Hathcock with Michael Williams following the premiere of “Inner Logic.”

The Winthrop ensemble had the great fortune to perform Richard Maltz’s In Perpetuum…for large percussion ensemble back in 2009 (It is a stunningly beautiful work, by the way, and well-deserving of more performances). After the performance, Dick asked me what kind of piece he could write for us in future. I told him I would love to hear what he could do with a marimba quartet. Last year, he came through with Divertimento. Dick provides the following information on his website:

Divertimento (2012)

marimba quartet

Low C, Low A Low F, 5 Octave

Duration: 11 minutes

I.  Prelude
II. Mysterioso
III. Perpetual Motion
IV. Theme and Variations
V. Tango
VI. Postlude
Divertimento, an 11-minute work for marimba quartet, was composed for the Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble. It has six short movements: an inquisitive prelude, a mysterioso, a whirring perpetual motion, a sentimental set of variations, a crescendo of a tango, and an emphatic postlude. The melodies are lyrical. Any perception that the music might seem at times, schizophrenic, may be due to harmony which is derived from both nature’s overtone series and its unnatural, inverted ‘undertone’ series.

Dr. Richard Maltz

Dr. Richard Maltz

Dick teaches at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. Check out his music at http://www.richardmaltz.com/index.html. Chris Hathcock teaches at Cheraw High School. Reach Chris at http://schools.mychesterfieldcountyschools.com/index.aspx?nid=62.

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A Riq, a djembe, and 4 tars walk into a bar…

Riq says, “Play it again, Sam.” Get it? Riq says? Casablanca? Ok, moving on…

I’ll wrap up the series of blog posts on my new works published by Bachovich with three works for hand drums; Merck’s Tattoo for solo riq, Kirina Dreams for solo djembe with ksink-ksink, and Maqsumed for frame drum quartet.

Bachovich Merck’s Tattoo COVER

Merck’s Tattoo for solo riq, written for Kyle Merck, is one of several works I’ve composed for students to perform on recitals. The piece is loosely based on funk-style drumset rhythms, with brief references to the bell pattern used in the West African Ewe dance “Gahu.” The title is inspired by a very distinctive tattoo that Kyle Merck sports on the underside of his left wrist. It occurred to me that every time Kyle plays the riq, he has a clear view of his special tattoo.

Merck's Tattoo

Merck’s Tattoo

Bachovich Kirina Dreams COVER

Kirina Dreams, written for Jonathan Harrisis based on the Malian rhythm called Madan, traditionally played to celebrate the millet harvest. According to master djembefola Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara, Madan originated in the village of Kirina in the Koulikoro region of Mali, near the Guinean border. Kirina holds a special place in the history of the Mande people, as it is the location of the famous battle of Kirina, where Sundiata Keita defeated the Sosso king Sumanguru Kante in 1235 to mark the beginning of the Great Mali Empire. Legend has it that Sundiata overcame tremendous adversity in his rise to become king of one of the greatest civilizations in history. Sundiata’s story is a classic tale of the hero’s journey, recounted for generations and capturing the dreams and imaginations of young and old alike.

This solo requires the use of added jingle plates called ksink-ksink (also called “kashink-kashink” or “seke-seke”). These fan-shaped shakers are inserted between the tensioning ropes of the djembe and typically vibrate sympathetically in a manner similar to the snares on a snare drum. In Kirina Dreams, they are also played directly with the hands. It is said that ksink-ksink represent the shields once used to protect drummers during battle as they oversaw the battlefield and drummed messages to the troops.

 Bachovich Maqsumed COVER

In the spirit of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, Maqsumed (as in “consumed”) employs a system of building up fragments of permuted rhythms derived from the traditional Arabic rhythm Maqsum. The number of repeats in each bar is not fixed. It may vary within the approximate limits marked in each bar (e.g. bar 1 may be repeated 4-6 times, then player two enters at bar 2 for about 5-9 repeats and so on). The indications for approximate numbers of repeats are written above the part responsible for making the particular change in each bar (e.g. player 2 is responsible for bars 2 through  8 since player one repeats without changing in those bars), and consequently the approximate number of repeats (5-9) is written above player two’s part, and similarly throughout the piece. Once a player’s rhythm has completed its build-up process, a decrescendo is indicated with an approximate number of repeats (e.g. 3-4) in which to accomplish the dynamic change in order for the player’s part to meld into the prevailing timbre and allow the next player’s entrances to stand out. This piece may be performed using any frame drum (tar, bendir, bodhran, riq, etc.) or combinations of drums as desired. The piece may also be played on doumbek or any sounding source capable of producing the three sounds (dum, tak, slap).

 

Merck’s Tattoo, Kirina Dreams, and Maqsumed are avialable now at www.bachovich.com.

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Mallet Ensemble Arrangements

Here are some newly-published ensemble arrangements for mallet percussion; Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod, and Shona Spirit (three traditional mbira tunes for marimba ensemble).

Bachovich Danse Macabre COVER

During the summer of 1990, I was on the artist faculty at the Brevard Music Center in Western North Carolina. Since I had planned a Halloween concert for the Winthrop Percussion Ensemble the following fall (and had no clue what to program), I spent most of my free time that summer writing the  two concert transcriptions presented here. Both arrangements (the Saint-Saëns and the Gounod) were taken directly from the orchestral score. Danse Macabre is scored for glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 vibraphones, 5 marimbas, and string bass (a bass marimba plays the string bass part on the recording below). The historical significance of Danse Macabre is important to percussionists, as it is the first orchestral composition employing a xylophone (to imitate the rattling bones of a skeleton dancing at midnight on Halloween).

 

 

Bachovich Funeral March COVER

Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, originally written for piano, depicts the funeral procession of a broken marionette. Immediately following the first bar, containing only two notes a tritone apart (the “Devil’s interval”), a silent fermata announces, “The marionette is broken.” The somber adagio that follows depicts “murmurs of regret from the troupe.” The procession begins with the now-famous tune known by most as the theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” As the key changes from D minor to D major, the score reads, “Here many of the principal personages stop for refreshments,” and the recapitulation of the famous theme marks the “return to the house.”

 

Bachovich Shona Spirit COVER

The Shona people of Zimbabwe have a rich musical tradition.  Both vocal and instrumental musical expressions largely depend on the concept of a constantly recurring harmonic cycle over which improvised variations are layered, often in an interlocking fashion.  This concept is epitomized in the music of the mbira, in which the kushaura (leading part, melody) line is complemented by the kutsinhira (responding or supporting part) line to create an interlocking “kaleidophonic” texture.

All the marimba parts in these arrangements are derived from actual mbira parts, and are marked either kushaura  or kutsinhira  in order to facilitate the ensemble’s understanding of this important interlocking principle.  An effective performance may be rendered by starting with the kushaura lines together, followed by the kutsinhira lines, and finally by the composite line performed by the lead soprano voice. Other imaginative layering techniques may be explored as well in order to give the audience a glimpse into the intricate internal structure of each piece.

Although the marimba is indigenous to Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and other nations of Southeastern Africa, it was not introduced in Zimbabwe until the early 1960s at the Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo.  The marimba ensemble, patterned after those found in neighboring countries, was chosen as a practical vehicle for preserving traditional Shona musical experiences and concepts without favoring any particular cultural or ethnic group. The Zimbabwean marimbas come in four sizes (soprano, tenor, baritone, bass) covering a four-octave range.  The tuning of most marimbas found in Zimbabwe today is diatonic, usually in the western C major scale.  (Many of the indigenous African marimbas and xylophones are tuned to pentatonic or heptatonic scales.)  The keys are laid out in one manual, and the soprano and tenor instruments are provided with both F-natural and F-sharp keys, thereby affording them the opportunity to play in the keys of C major and G major.  Because of the single-manual diatonic layout, the playing of these instruments depends more on aural awareness than the more visually-oriented western chromatic instruments for which these arrangements are written.

In these arrangements, the basic cycle for each instrument is notated along with suggested variations. The lead soprano voice (mushauri) is afforded the most freedom, while the supporting sopranos and tenors (vatsinhiri) have considerably less leeway for improvisation.  In most cases, the supporting soprano voices play a fixed pattern.  The baritone and bass voices (mazembera or mahon’era) usually outline the cyclic harmonic progression, and may vary their patterns occasionally as long as they maintain the chord progression.

Mahororo

According to Stella Chiweshe, Mahororo is the name of a small river in Zimbabwe. The interlocking melodic lines found in the tune Mahororo create a flowing effect that Chiweshe likens to a flowing river. She further states that people used the song to welcome hunters back to the village following an extended hunt. Forward Kwenda translates the title as “Baboons’ Voices” (onomatopoeic sound of baboon’s voices created by the interlocking mbira lines) or “Freedom following victorious struggle.” Likewise, Chartwell Dutiro describes it as a “song played after achievement.” Mahororo is harmonically derived from the older song Nyamaropa. The tune’s flowing rhythmic style results from the interlocking of the mbira player’s right and left hands on every other underlying pulse. One will note that Mahororo (as well as Nyamaropa) has a key signature of two sharps, although the tonal center is clearly “A.” This reflects the standard mbira tuning (also known as “Nyamaropa tuning”) in mixolydian mode (major scale with flat 7th). The key center of  “A” was chosen for these works in order to accommodate a performance along with mbiras pitched in that key.

Nhemamusasa

Nhemamusasa, meaning “temporary shelter,” is a tune once associated with war that is now considered a hunting song. The title has to do with building a temporary shelter, called a musasa, which soldiers or hunters could use while away from home. Nhemamusasa differs from the other two tunes most obviously in its tonal center, a fourth above the lowest note on the mbira. Given an instrument pitched in “A,” Nhemamusasa would have a tonal center of “D,” the key in which this arrangement is written. The harmonic progression found in Nhemamusasa is identical to that of Nyamaropa and its derivative pieces, but with a higher tonal center. Unlike Mahororo and Nyamaropa, the kutsinhira line for Nhemamusasa is noticeably different in rhythmic character from the kushaura line, creating a rich polyrhythmic tapestry.

Nyamaropa

Nyamaropa (literally “meat and blood”) is generally considered among the most ancient of mbira compositions. Some musicians say it was the first piece composed for the instrument. Andrew Tracey calls it the “big song” for mbira, probably because it is the prototype for so many other mbira pieces such as Mahororo, as well as several others. Possibly originating as a war song “to raise emotions before a battle,” the piece is now considered a hunting song, its title suggesting the scene following a successful hunt.

These arrangements are available at www.bachovich.com.

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Dissertation Download!

My Ph.D. dissertation from Michigan State University, The Early Percussion Music of John Cage:1935-1943, is available for Free Download on my website! Here’s what Robin Engelman says about it:

“If you are searching for clear, authoritative insights into Cage’s early works for percussion, you should read B. Michael Williams’ Ph.D. thesis, The Early Percussion Music of John Cage, 1935-1943. It is superb.This one handy text contains information gleaned from many sources and includes interviews of Cage by Dr. Williams. His meticulous analysis and thoughtful questions drew insights from Cage that lift veils of ambiguity and illuminate these seminal works for today’s performers. For example, Cage’s description of the thundersheets he used in First Construction (In Metal) is revelatory. It resolves irksome interpretive issues and alone is worth the price of the book. Much has been written about John Cage and, in my opinion, Dr. Williams’ thesis should be on any essential list of reading for all percussionists; performers, teachers and students.”

– Robin Engelman – Member of Nexus, The Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, Conductor/Director the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Percussion Ensemble, 1975-2007.

1333127842-ln1uth25edxiht5n-1Just click on John Cage’s smiling face here or on my homepage for an instant download.

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World Percussion Ensemble Literature

 bmbira-setup-1

At PASIC 2005, I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the PAS World Percussion Committee. My portion of the discussion had to do with percussion ensemble literature. I compiled a handout of representative percussion ensemble literature influenced to some degree by world music. The list is loosely categorized by geographical influence (Asian, African, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, etc.). We ran out of handouts at PASIC (who knew so many people would come to a panel discussion?), and over the years I have received emails from people requesting a copy. For those interested, it is now on my website in the “Writings” section, or you can just click here http://www.bmichaelwilliams.com/worldperc.pdf.

 

BMW

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Welcome to the B. Michael Williams blog

bmichaelwilliamsmyspace3

Welcome to my news page and blog.  Over the years I’ve had experiences or insights that I thought were worth sharing with a wider audience, but may not have been so significant or thoroughly researched as to warrant a published article. Perhaps this blog will be the perfect venue for little tidbits I’ve discovered about this and that.

I guess I’m a bit of an anomaly in the percussion world, but maybe not. After all, percussionists are by nature “jacks of all trades.” I began my career as an orchestral percussionist and high school band director, then did some research and writing on John Cage, wrote some pieces for frame drums, studied West African drumming, and later learned to play a lamellaphone from Zimbabwe. Some years ago I remember asking a colleague what he’d thought of an article I’d recently published about Stockhausen’s percussion solo No. 9 Zyklus. His response was, “You wrote that? I thought it was another Michael Williams.”

The fact is, diversity is what we percussionists do best. My teacher at Northwestern University, Terry Applebaum, always said, “Our virtuosity is our versatility.” I took that wisdom to heart and it is a major platform in my teaching philosophy. Anyway, I hope to engage you on these pages with some observations, experiences, and my own questions about a variety of topics; frame drums, djembe, contemporary percussion, percussion education, mbira, and my own musings about everything from Almglocken to Zen.

Thanks for visiting… and come back any time!

BMW

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