|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
Next up in the Numinous Crib Notes series:
Race was originally written for the Pulse project, The Eloquent Light back in 2006. If you don't know, Pulse is the composer 'federation' I lead and it also features composers Darcy James Argue, Jamie Begian, JC Sanford, Joshua Shneider, and Yumiko Sunami. The original version of Race was for a 10-person chamber ensemble, in addition to the soloists John McNeil on trumpet and Pete McCann on guitar.
The composition takes its' name from my researching and viewing historical photos of Olympic runners going all the way back to the 1920 Olympics. It was wonderful to learn about and see photos of the great runners of the past such as Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Jesse Owens, Michael Johnson, Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner), Kip Keino, Paavo Nurmi, and Joan Beniot, all whose photos and more were used in a slide show that accompanied the original performances of Race. There were two photos that initially captivated me (above): one was a photo of Wilma Rudolph from the 1960 Olympics in Rome (I love the joy she has on her face as she crosses the line and without knowing her painful childhood and of course the oppressive racial environment at the time, one can imagine that she never knew of such hardship and disappointment); the other photo was a shot of Marion Jones from the 2000 Olympics in Australia (No matter what you think of Marion Jones, I just found the photo shares with the Wilma Rudolph one, an accurate depiction of the happiness running (and winning) can bring out in someone and that is one feeling I wanted Race to give to the listener).
At the opening of Race, the guitar plays only three pitches (Bb-Eb-F) in an arpeggio pattern shifting between groups of three and four. This beginning is both harmonically (is it the key of Eb? F? Bb? or any number of other possibilities) and rhythmically ambiguous (the shifting pattern floats over the 3/2 metric stresses) and leads to the entrance of the harp playing (F-C-Bb), also in an arpeggio leading into the trumpet and trombone melody a few bars later. At this point I can imagine the stretching and preparation before the start of an early morning run or runners milling around before the start of a race. As the composition progresses there are various overlapping or "chasing" patterns between instruments of differing rhythmic groupings, with the trombone more melodic, often foreshadowing various intervallic permutations that are heard later in other instruments. The trumpet solo enters playing on top of various "streams" of melody, moving at different rhythmic rates until the tuba and cello enter with a more "funky" bass line. A brief interlude (I call it a "second wind") picks up some of the previous material heard in the trombone and, much like the final lap of a race, pushes it into a slightly different gear leading into the guitar solo. The end of the guitar solo smoothly leads into the last section which harmonically starts like the beginning, however now more rooted in various modal configurations of Eb (although there is never an Eb in the bass); the trombone and trumpet, again melodically dance around each other one last time before finally fading out, leaving the harp and violin as the last statements in the piece. At a Pulse rehearsal a couple of years ago, I told the musicians this section was like running through the finish line and finally beginning to catch your breathe as you wind down.
Overall, like John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine or Micheal Torke's Javelin or Run, I wanted Race to be a portrait of motion; a linear progression of movement to the end, much like an actual race. However there were no images of runners in my mind as I was composing the piece. Only after looking back on Race, and this sense of movement was I able to explore running as a metaphor. Here's what I said about Race in the program notes:
Running is one of the oldest and most basic of human impulses. It can be a utilitarian exercise or save you from immediate danger. Also, as demonstrated by ‘Dan’ in World Record from the film Animatrix, running can be a vehicle to enlightenment as well as a delightful endeavor in and of itself, as any young kid in a playground would illustrate.
My composition, Race, is inspired by that child-like joy of movement: of testing your body and spirit against others and against yourself. For inspiration, I used various historic images of runners from the Olympic Games that I felt were avatars of this drama, but also representative of the beauty and exultation of the race.
May 24, 2010
837 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215-1308
Donations (please be generous!)
Ben Kono, Dan Willis, Ed Xiques (woodwinds); Stephanie Richards (trumpet); Ernest Stuart (trombone); Tom Beckham (vibraphone); Andrew Green (guitar); Megan Levin (harp); Jared Soldiviero (percussion); Ana Milosavljevic, Scott Tixier (violins); Will Martina, Lauren Riley-Rigby (cellos); Shawn Conley (bass)
Be prepared, check back later for more...
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:46 PM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.