Describe your inspiration for composing the piece.
The Great River Rapid Chase came to be because of an idea that Caleb Hammer, a fellow colleague in MCI, shared with me and Harrison J. Collins (another composer in the group). Instead of organizing a consortium for one new work, why not feature three composers with three new pieces to offer middle school and high school groups (especially those who may have not had this opportunity before) to premiere new music? I thought it was a brilliant concept for a consortium, and this journey has opened doors for me on an artistic and professional level. I've been so fortunate and thankful to have been able to work with a number of teachers, students, and ensembles I had never worked with before in bringing this piece to life. I'm also grateful to Caleb for asking me to be a part of his consortium, and I'm immensely thankful to all of the consortium members who have programmed this piece over the course of this year.
What is the overall conception for the piece (for example, is it programmatic or abstract? Is there a specific formal structure, color, or musical device you employed?)
The musical intent of The Great River Rapid Chase stemmed from a loose concept based on my Michigan roots (this is the second of three pieces I've written that explores this - the third will be completed later this summer). I thought of the idea of fish swimming upstream against a raging river along with the various perils and dangers they could face while on this journey, such as predators or other natural forces. It was an idea I thought could be translated into an exciting new piece for band without taking itself too seriously.
In that regard, this piece became a short but fast-paced adventure with a relentless sense of energy to it. There is musical contrast and various thematic ideas that grow and change throughout, but no matter how much the music is transformed, there is always this sense of driving energy to it that I sought to capture, whether that's percussive/rhythmic or simply from rapid harmonic changes. There are other elements I've also included to serve as an introductory idea for the players. For example, in a few spots, some of the band is instructed to blow air through their instrument at no pitch in a manner that ebbs and flows. This creates a wind effect as if there are gusts of wind blowing through the surrounding trees on both sides of the river, if one imagines the river is going through a forest.
What are some of the goals you strove to accomplish in writing the work?
My main goal for The Great River Rapid Chase was to compose an educational work of the highest quality possible that could equally be fun to listen to as well as perform. I sought to challenge the players in the band, but not so much as to make the music difficult for all of the wrong reasons. Something I also wanted to explore in this piece was working with different formal structures and finding new methods of approaching common musical ideas. For example, near the end of the piece, there are 7-bar phrases instead of 8-bar phrases. There are meter changes that disrupt moments of the standard form as well, along with some contrapuntal forces between various sections in the band. Finally, one of the main thematic ideas lends itself to chromaticism, something which is also developed throughout.
What are some of the challenges you faced in writing the work?
Many of the challenges I faced with this piece had to deal with the overall nature of the music. This was one of my first experiences writing what's essentially a "Grade 2-3" band work, or in my mind, music that needed to specifically serve the purposes for both concert performance and educational development. My early compositions tended to have a track record for having a varyingly higher difficulty level of performance. I sought to go against many of my initial gut instincts with this work and experiment with methods I could employ to fully develop my musical intent in a way which was as feasible and artistically viable as possible for this genre. This led to further challenges of creating authentic contrasting shapes and new colors within the more relatively standardized form this piece follows that, overall, I had a lot of fun exploring.
What do you hope your audience ultimately take away the most from hearing your work?
I hope that those who listen to this work can find some enjoyment from the piece, whether from the work itself or some of the concepts it's inspired by. And, I hope that this music can bring people together in some shape or form, whether to entertain or to simply exist as is for its own sake.