Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Geographical Preludes: Part TWO

On Monday 1 June I posted the first of four commentaries on this set of pieces. Here is the second post. Several hundred people have been listening to these little pieces, which is gratifying! Here's how I wrote them.

The nature of the source materials

The first Geographical Prelude was conceived in a motel room in Alpharetta, Georgia. It may be found on the first page of this collection. I was in Alpharetta to attend the Georgia State Sacred Harp Singing Convention in March of 1999. Between sessions of the convention I was furiously composing under deadline, a short orchestra piece called “Some Melodies From Alpharetta” which I had promised to my colleague Angel Gil-OrdoƱez for the Wesleyan Orchestra. The idea for these preludes had been vaguely rattling around somewhere in the back of my brain. Suddenly I realized that the hexachoral progressions at the heart of this modest symphonic work would, with appropriate simple figuration, make a good piano prelude. The realization of this idea proved to be more difficult than its inspiration, and the final version of this prelude was only completed a year and a half later.

Geographical Preludes, then, could be spin-offs from other works. The next to be composed, Middletown Prelude No. 1, was in fact a radical reconfiguration of a vocal piece written and recorded (never publicly performed) several years earlier. The Homerville and West Palm Beach preludes similarly reconfigure and/or develop portions of earlier compositions, my variations for harpsichord (1961) and “The Year of Jubilo” for piano and pre-recorded sound (2001) respectively. And the New Haven Prelude is an arrangement for piano of one of the bell pieces in my major work “CONVERGENCE: Some Parades for Charlie’s Dad.” In all cases, of course, the pieces of paper — the physical objects — were hand-crafted in the eponymous locations.

The third to be composed, the Champaign Prelude No. 1, is based on chord progressions I wrote as compositional exercises while in graduate school. I saved these pages, as I have saved dozens of other pages of progressions, melodies, rhythmic and orchestrational conceptions, etc. over the years. The Birmingham, Helena, Rochester and Tuscaloosa preludes are the result of similar recycling ventures from my student days and even my childhood.

More often, however, these preludes are the result of on-location sketches, made specifically for this purpose. I have attempted to sketch spontaneously, that is, to write what comes to me quickly, without editing. Sometimes it is a melody; sometimes it is a progression; sometimes it is a mode. Some of these ideas are fragmentary in the extreme; others are longer and more fully developed. Making the prelude from the sketch can be laborious or easy; it took me a year and a half to figure out what to do with the fragment which became the Buena Vista Prelude, but the Hadley Prelude practically wrote itself.

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