Hail (2012) (6′)
January 5, 2012 (formerly titled “First Hail”)


Adam Dunson, percussion; Josh Silva, trumpet

Nov. 19, 2013, Beall Hall, Eugene, Ore.
Digital sheet music download now available on qPress!

Commissioned by TimesTwo Duo (Thomas Bergeron and Candy Chiu)

Here I wanted to create a pushing and pulling between the members of the duo. That pushing/pulling takes us from some proto-Berio jams to a more hectic off-kilter groove on drum set and guiro supporting an improv break for the trumpet. The pushing and pulling abates during a final section in which some of the opening materials are recast in a more subdued form. My effort to explain the dramatic arc of the piece in completely non-musical terms goes like this:

The pair enters into an exploratory conversation. Only the subject matter was known in advance; the exploration part was a pleasant development. It’s hard to know how much further to explore. The duo explores far enough. Maybe they’d already said what mattered from the outset. It turns out to be worth saying again. Or maybe it is new this time. In any case, this time it makes a lot of sense. Feels right.

The “hail” of the title can be an image, or it can also be the act of calling or declaiming. Both senses jibe with the soundworld of the piece.

Sol de invierno

Sol de invierno (2013) (4′)

Estelí Gomez, soprano; Diana Rosenblum, cello; Jacob Walls, trumpet

I appreciate how in Unamuno’s sonnet, the speaker not only describes a beautiful scene of a winter sun as it appears to him, but he also suggests how that image reverberates within his own spirit.

The use of a trumpet and cello might appear eclectic, but in my piece the instruments partner, each one making use of its subdued colors as well as its harsh ones, just as a winter sun is often subdued yet sometimes curiously harsh when viewed at its most direct angle.

Miguel de Unamuno (Spanish, 1864-1936) from Rosario de sonetos líricos (1911)

Sol de invierno

Oh sol de invierno que por el ramaje
desnudo de verdores el tesoro
nos ciernes, pío, de la sangre de oro
con que tras de las siestas el celaje

enciendes engañándonos; ropaje
eres común con que se abriga el coro
de los pobres, y cumples el aforo
de la vida al que rinde vasallaje

á la triste vejez. Oh sol clemente
que das al hielo brillo diamantino,
sé mi consuelo tú cuando mi frente

doble á la tierra, mi último destino,
y envuelve en el rojor de tu poniente
de mi postrera noche el buen camino.

Winter Sun

Oh winter sun whose treasure
sifts down through the bare branches
to us, with your pious golden blood
after our siestas you ignite

the clouded sky; your robes are
plentiful in which the poor masses
wrap themselves, and you fill up the
last measure of life for him who offers

up his will to sad old age. Oh merciful sun
who gives ice its diamantine brilliance,
be my consolation when my forehead

bends toward the earth, my ultimate fate,
and bathe the right path of my final night
in the red glow of your sunset.

translated by Jacob Walls
with coaching from Bob Gomez
(any remaining inconsistencies are mine alone!)

Poker’s Despondent Rapture

Poker’s Despondent Rapture (2011) (2′)
May 9, 2011

Chaz Lee, baritone; Noah Fields, viola; Jacob Walls, trumpet

I’m interested in how musicians create and sustain drama. For this trio of odds and ends I lifted some text from Charles Dickens’s manuscripts. The “Sapsea Fragment” pertains to his last, unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Never incorporated into the novel, the fragment represents one of Dickens’s improvisations. A minor character by the name of Mr. Sapsea is leaving a clubroom and encounters a groveling figure who goes by the name of Poker. Dickens ratchets up the drama with each line, leaving Poker to struggle in a “despondent rapture” just trying to communicate something to Mr. Sapsea–but then Dickens realizes he has fallen over the edge, making too much out of nothing and trailing off at the word “Or…” With this piece I wanted to ratchet up a little drama from modest materials–nothing too heavy–and steer just clear of falling over the edge.

Text (excerpts from the Sapsea Fragment)

Pardon me, Mr. Sapsea; you appear warm, Sir.

Your penetration is so acute, your glance into the souls of your fellow men is so penetrating, that if I was hardy enough to deny that my name was Poker, what would it avail me?

Disguise from you is impossible. You know already that I come from somewhere, and am going somewhere else. If I was to deny it, what would it avail me?