“I Dance, I Learn…” — Hopefully!

The official title of my new composition project is actually Je danse, J’apprends, a somewhat self-consciously arty translation of the focus of the project (titled above) into French. Being as many of the Baroque dance styles appearing in the music of that period (think Bourrée, Gavotte, Menuet) were French in origin, and being as French enjoys a pretty large presence in my family (my daughter has a BA, and an older brother holds a PhD), I come by this title fairly honestly. Just don’t hold me to a native pronunciation!

The short description of the work includes “…a suite of studies in dance rhythms for piano quintet and percussion.” From that you may assume that I’ve settled on an overarching structure for the full composition, not that I’m particularly far along with it. The J’apprends (“…I Learn”) part should not come as a surprise to anyone following my progress here, or knowing my career as an educator and, now, a university Donovan Scholar (i.e. a self-styled lifelong learner). Not only will my Web-delivered development of this project follow my “watch the pieces appear, with analysis” approach (see my Brass Variations for a good example), but I’ve also decided to give some “instructions” on themes and melodic content directly in the music, at the beginning of each of the work’s movements. These “instructions” will probably roll out like this:

  • Introduce the percussion. My learning goals for this project — exploring a short list of percussion instruments — will be front-and-center, with a short (or sometimes longer) solo serving to introduce each the instrument used in each piece.
  • Introduce the music. That percussion solo will roughly reflect the thematic and structural content of the music to follow — so if the piece uses 3 themes to generate an ABA musical format, the introductory solo will as well. Of course, most of the percussion selection will be non-pitched instruments, so only the rhythmic stuff will appear for them.

Of course, since I’m only about 25% done with the first of these movements, a lot of details have yet to be worked out. And, it goes without saying, music composition (at least at my hand) rarely follows a straight line from concept to finished product. And I can assure you, the rhythmic dance patterns I chase will be historically French only by accident!

My current movement project will leverage the marimba as the percussion instrument. I should have an excerpt ready in a week or so. Watch this space!

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