Oberlin Blogs

Senior Recital

December 20, 2010

Will Mason ’10

Sorry for the extended blogging absence; this semester (my last) has gotten away from me in ways I would have never imagined. I'll blog about that at a later date; for now, I wanted to briefly post some videos of my senior recital, since I have it and I think it might be of interest to hear it and to read a little bit of my informal thoughts about these.

The first two pieces were original, semi-improvised compositions for large ensemble based around relatively simple music. The focus in both is texture, rather than melody or harmony. This first one stems from my love of metal music. The first half features rhythmic and registral notation but the actual pitches are left up to the performers' discretion, provided they are from the concert C major scale (and that they are played as loud as possible). I wanted it to feel pretty "punk rock" and it is also supposed to be a bit absurd. Laughter is an appropriate response, as is head-banging. The second half is mostly through-composed, though the saxes are improvising their accompaniment around two chord changes.

In this second large ensemble piece, each measure has 5 or 6 discrete pitches that the performers are instructed to arpeggiate as they please. The pitches gradually expand, from a chromatic cluster at the beginning to an F major chord with wide intervals in the middle; gradually, everyone arrives at the note Bb and then there's a tenor solo, with fixed-pitch backgrounds. After that the piece plays in reverse, starting with F major and returning to a chromatic cluster. This piece sounds better the more people are playing on it, because at any given moment it becomes likely that every note in the 5- or 6-note collection is being played.

Again, these are two very simplistic pieces that leave a lot to the discretion of the performers, which is what I like as a composer and improviser. I'm not talented enough to write something that's better than what a skilled performer would simply play on their own, so why should I bother?

This piece is almost completely through-composed and is pretty freaking hard to play. It's mostly in three time signatures: 13/16, 15/16, and 21/16, alternating somewhat regularly. The idea is that in each time signature there are three points of attack, and as the time signatures shift those points of attack expand or contract in metrically precise ways. To smudge the lines between the time signatures, half of the ensemble plays dotted eighth notes (groupings of three sixteenth notes): in one measure of 15/16, that's five dotted eighth notes, and in a measure of 21/16 it's seven. It's fun to tap your foot along to the dotted notes and listen to how the three main attacks shift from measure to measure.

- - - -

I ended with two pieces by Thelonious Monk, one of my favorite jazz composers. I've been playing in this piano trio since my sophomore year, and we tend to let things go all over the place. It's highly improvised and spontaneous and performances sound nothing alike from one night to the next, which makes it a lot of fun to play. It's very fleet-footed music. I hope you enjoy it!

Similar Blog Entries