Behind the Scenes

"Into the Silent Land" - Music Reflecting on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy - Behind-the-Scenes

"Into the Silent Land" - Music Reflecting on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Tragedy - Behind-the-Scenes

I grew up in Sandy Hook, CT and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I believe that music is one way we can remember the victims of the tragedy, their families, and victims of similar tragedies. This was the hardest piece I have written, but I hope that the music allows listeners to pause and remember these victims, and come together to prevent this kind of violence in the future.

Sneak Peek of "Ultra" for Wind Band

Sneak Peek of "Ultra" for Wind Band

In this short video, I play a little sample of the second movement, "Tree House," from one of my newest works, "Ultra." The piece was commissioned by the Arkansas Chapter of the College Band Directors National Association, and will be premiered by the Arkansas Intercollegiate Band in February 2018.

Sketches of "Vermont State Fair"

I am in the midst of composing a new work for band (and probably an orchestral version, as well) called Vermont State Fair.  I wrote about the inspiration behind the piece back in April here.  This picture shows a few of my "sketches" (that's a fancy way of saying "my notes and ideas"). At this stage, I am trying to come up with a several different motives that I can use and develop throughout the piece.  Because the setting is a noisy and exciting fair (think people, rides, games, and horse racing), I anticipate moving between different melodies, motives, and sections frequently to give the piece a bombastic and fun feeling and give a sense of the exciting atmosphere.  I have about ten motives/ideas/melodies so far and I hope to develop several more.  I have also started planning out the progression of music - what order these things will happen in - and working on some orchestration in Finale.

This is a fun piece to write - a range of different kinds of music, but all fun and exciting.  Stay tuned!

Sneak Peek: "Winter Song" for Flute and String Orchestra

Yes, it is Spring, and yes I am working on a piece called “Winter Song.” But, I live in Rochester, NY, so it is basically Winter all year long here – cut me some slack. This new piece is for my good friend Chung Park, Director of Orchestral Studies at Appalachian State University. It is written for flute and string orchestra that uses material from a piece I wrote a few years ago for flute and marimba. I liked much of the material I originally wrote, but recently, I felt like strings would be a better fit, and decided to take the opportunity to revise and improve the ideas.

An important harmonic element in the piece is a sonority that I really enjoy – major 7th chords in various voicings. The main chord structure that helps inform the harmonic progression of the work is a series of two fifths, stacked on top of each other, separated in the middle by a half step (i.e. C, G and Ab, Eb). I use this sonority throughout and move the chord by fifths, sequentially, through all twelve keys.

Here is a rough MIDI export of the first 3 ½ minutes:

[audio http://www.stevedanyew.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Winter_Song_midi.mp3]

Book Recommendation - Bernstein by Joan Peyser

A couple of months ago, I was browsing the floor-to-ceiling stacks of used books at our local bookstore and stumbled across Bernstein: A Biography by Joan Peyser.  I had actually been thinking about seeking out a biography of the renowned American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, so this was a perfect find! I just finished reading the book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about Bernstein’s life and career. Like many famous artists, his story is enthralling, captivating, and powerful. Joan Peyser provides wonderful insight into all facets of Bernstein’s life and career, from his childhood through his many artistic triumphs. Many fascinating stories illuminate Bernstein’s genius, his drive, as well as his sheer celebrity.  An excellent read on a truly remarkable musician.  Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm happy to report that my new wind ensemble consortium piece for winds and film is nearly complete!  The music is essentially done, there is just a bit of editing and orchestration left to do.  I'm very excited about the piece and looking forward to getting the music and film out to consortium members in January. The past few days I have been working on a new project - arranging a few Advent hymns!  I love Advent!  The church choir I am singing in will be singing Vivaldi's Gloria on December 9th, with strings and organ.  The Director asked if I would arrange the 3 hymns for the service for strings, organ, oboe, and trumpet (and congregational singing of course).   I'm having a great time with this - and I have the opportunity to work with some wonderful hymns (and wonderful musicians!).

I have been working on Jesus Comes with Clouds Descending which is quickly becoming one of my favorite hymns.   It is a soaring, powerful melody, and it doesn't hurt that the harmony is written by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  I've had the tune stuck in my head for about a week, and I think I could listen to this all day.  Among many, many other things, I'm thankful for this powerful and transformational music we have.

New Work for Soprano and Wind Octet - "Alcott Songs"

I really enjoy the poetry of Louisa May Alcott, and I decided to create a song cycle comprised of six of her relatively short poems. I tried to pull together poems that are particularly fun, witty, and whimsical.  As I began choosing these texts, I realized that it would be fun to organize them in a way that could depict a summer day: the first poem opens with “Awake! Awake!”  The second talks about jumping among lily pads, the third describes spring flowers, and the fourth portrays a squirrel and his acorn adventures.  The fifth seems to be about bees or another animal in a sort of dream-like story – I picture this as the point at which we dose off to sleep.  The sixth and final poem is a lovely lullaby which brings the day to an end.  Musically, I tried to create melodies and textures that mirror the fun and wit of the poetry.  There is a variety of music, from very light spring-like dancing in the opening song, to the quiet and delicate lullaby at the end.

Commissioned by the following musicians and institutions:

Dr. Brenton F. Alston – Florida International University Dr. Daniel Belongia – Illinois State University Dr. Justin Davis – Greatbatch School of Music, Houghton College Mr. Duane Hill – Texas Tech University Dr. John Oelrich – University of Tennessee at Martin Dr. David Ragsdale – University of Alabama Huntsville Dr. Catherine Rand – University of Southern Mississippi Dr. Jason Rinehart & Dr. Claire Vangelisti – University of Louisiana at Monroe Dr. Mark Scatterday – Eastman School of Music Mr. Timothy Shade – University of Miami Dr. Mark Walker – Troy University

Read more about the work here.

Quiet Places

For the most part, we live in a noisy, fast, and relentless world. Sometimes, especially when I am trying to come up with the initial ideas for a new piece, I want to be in a quiet place.  A place where I can really savor the sounds I create and not be distracted by anything.  A basement practice room, an empty church.  For others, it's a garden, a backyard, a patio.  Here's to enjoying a few moments in your own quiet place!

Evolving Ideas

It's interesting to look back at my sketches for a piece - my initial ideas, and see how they evolve into the final version.  Sometimes, in the beginning, I have what I think is a great idea for a piece, a great motive, melody, etc.  But inevitably that first version I come up with will not remain the same.  It evolves in someway, through the process of working with the material very closely and making many decisions about it.  Even the scope of the whole work itself - the length, the meaning, the inspiration, the direction - can change. Back on March 9th, I posted here about initial ideas I had for a new choral work.  While finishing up Magnolia Star over the past few weeks, I have found little bits of time to think about this new piece and play with the initial ideas.  Many of the ideas I discussed in the post weeks ago are still very much on target.  However, two main evolutions have happened with this piece recently, which made me think about this whole idea of evolving ideas for a work:

1. The text: My initial idea was to just use the word "Alleluia" for the text.  Then I realized that when the piece reaches its climax, it will really need a contrasting section, and it would be ideal to change the text at that point.  It would be powerful to set up an ostinato with just this one word, for several minutes as the piece builds, and then when the climax arrives, open up a new world with a change in music and text.   I have been thinking about setting Isaiah 55:12 for some time, but I kept thinking that it would be too short a text to stand on its own.  Perfect!  I can start with "Alleluia," then set the verse, and then end with "Alleluia."

Alleluia For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace:  the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing. Alleluia

2. I have been struggling with how to start the piece - whether to begin with all four voices, or just sopranos, or sopranos and altos, etc. The repeating ostinato that I'm using starts with a D major chord, which I thought would be a beautiful way to begin the piece.  Again, as I thought more and got deeper into the material, I started to think that this needed to change.  While the D major chord would make a perfectly beautiful first sound, the piece is really about building to a climax via a repeating ostinato, adding counterpoint and growing slowly.  So, in that way it makes sense to start with just the sopranos, stating the simple melody as a monophonic line.  Then, perhaps I bring in the altos to add some counterpoint.  And then, after two statements of the ostinato, the full choir arrives with that D major chord and the piece continues to build.  That's where I am now in my thinking, but it could change!