Foss High School Orchestra
Premiered by the Foss High School Orchestra, Andrea Bryant director, in a benefit concert at Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall in Seattle on May 15, 2003. This event was sponsored by the Composer Residency Program of the Seattle Composer’s Alliance in conjunction with Gilda’s Club of Seattle.
This page is a record of the process of writing this piece.
The Story Behind the Music
When St. Patrick was a teenager in Britain, he was captured by Irish raiders and became a slave in Ireland, tending sheep. During this time, St. Patrick developed spiritually, and would often pray while watching his master’s sheep.
After six years, he was told in a dream that he should be ready for a courageous effort that would take him back to his homeland. He ran away from his owner and traveled 200 miles to the coast. His initial request for free passage on a ship was turned down, but he prayed, and the sailors called him back. The ship on which he escaped was taking cargo to France. At some point he returned to his family in Britain, and then seems to have gone on to study at a monastery in France.
There, he had a vision where he heard a cry from a great multitude of people: “Come back and walk once more among us.” This piece of music celebrates this call of the Irish, which spurred St. Patrick’s return to a land thirsty for the Gospel.
I thought it might be interesting to keep the older versions of the composition posted here, so that you could see how the writing of a piece typically progresses for me. Compare these older versions to the final one at the bottom.
The first (incomplete) version
You can listen to the beginning of the composition here. I haven’t really finished writing the rest yet, so I’ll be updating this about once a week, as I make progress towards the 1-Apr deadline. Note that the current piano part is not yet fully fleshed out. Also, the next section will have a more mysterious and mischievous feel to it, and will be more technically difficult. This will be followed by a recap of the beginning and a finale.
The second (incomplete) version
You can listen to an MP3 of the incomplete composition here. Notice that I have the beginning and the end done, but still have a bit of work to do in the middle. This is typical of how I write music—I find that I get an initial idea and spend a bit of time developing the idea (the instrumentation, variations, fitting pieces together, etc.). At some point, I have enough material to concentrate on how the pieces fit together: transitions from one idea to another, making sure sections fit aesthetically, and build up a structure that has a direction. Once the piece has developed a sound structure, then I can re-arrange some of the pieces to form an effective ending. In this version of the piece, you can hear how I’ve borrowed ideas from the beginning of the piece, but have arranged them in a slightly different order (and in a major key), forming something that is both familiar (essential for an ending) and fresh.
The Final Version
You can listen to the final version of Eire’s Call here. Notice how various sections of the piece are fitted together, especially compared to the previous version where there were many abrupt changes. Also notice the slower 6/8 section immediately following the 7/8 section, which provides a nice aesthetic balance, and helps provide a transition.
Take a step back and notice the over-all form of the piece: the jig melody which is essentially repeated in variations; the variations fit together to form a definite beginning, middle, and ending; these three sections function much like a sonata form as themes, development, recapitulation; the original theme is presented in two keys (major and minor), but the recapitulation adds a definite feeling of resolution by presenting the themes always in major.
In any case, I hope you enjoy the buoyant feel of the piece, and the fun challenge it will be to perform the piece!
If you are interested in composition lessons, I highly recommend my teacher, Dr. Peter F. Wolf. Contact me, and I’ll get you in touch.
By far, the best book I’ve come across about instrumentation would definitely be:
- Instrumentation and Orchestration (2nd ed.) by Alfred Blatter (published by Schirmer Books) – If you had only one such book, this should definitely be it.
Other books I’ve come across that are good (but not as good) are:
- J. Wagner’s Orchestration: A Practical Handbook (McGraw-Hill) – Primarily useful for how to transcribe from piano music to orchestra, and for ideas of different accompaniment styles.
- Kennan’s The Technique of Orchestration (2nd ed., Prentice Hall) – Not a bad general book, but Blatter’s is definitely better and more up-to-date.
- Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration (Dover publishes an inexpensive translation) – A classic resource. Contains many good points about orchestral colorings. Good for a complete library, but Blatter’s book is far more comprehensive.
- For concert band orchestration, J Wagner’s Band Scoring (McGraw-Hill) is also a good book.