Notes from Small Band Repertoire Initiative
Why do you feel this works?
American Guernica juxtaposes a harsh soundscape that uses close dissonances, high tesiaturas, and contemporary performance techniques with a rich and sweet sound of solo piano, performing in the style of hymns and spirituals found in African-American churches, and a haunting clarinet melody in the aftermath of tragedy.
In addition to the musical depiction, Hailstork utilizes several compositional techniques, blending traditional notation, aleatory or clock-time mensuration, and solo/cadenza. The piece switches between each compositional technique, giving the overall feel of the piece to be episodic. For example, It begins in traditional notation, followed by an aleatoric/clock-time episode, followed by traditional notation before the first piano solo.
Stylistically, the piece requires both traditional performance practice, extended performance techniques (flutter tonguing, bending of pitch, glissando), directed/notated improvisation, and a “gentle gospel swing.”"
What did you do to make this piece successful?
The aleatoric/clock-time episodes do not require the musicians to play at certain metronomic beats but rather at their own pace. This allows musicians who may not be as technically proficient as the principal player to contribute to the overall effect of the music and execution of the performance. After the initial dictation of notes to play, the musician simply repeats the line at their own pace while maintaining the dictated articulation until the episode elapses and the next cue is given.
In preparing the score, one will notice the high tessituras of each instrument. Most of these tessituras are limited to the principal players, or first parts of each section. The other parts are manageable by section players. Since the piece is episodic, this helps in the rehearsal process that each episode can be rehearses separately and give the principal players a slight break to rejuvenate and prepare embouchures in the brass section. In addition, this gives the listener a break from the loud harsh sounds required of the ensemble.
American Guernica demands from each musician to continue to develop their ensemble skills while allowing independence in the aleatoric section, and the freedom to improvise a notated line. Each member can contribute to the music depiction created by the composer.