Instrumentation: saxophone quartet (SATB) and wind ensemble (also piano reduction)
Duration: ca. 21:00
Premiere: January 10, 2020 :: U.S. Navy Band Saxophone Quartet, Captain Kenneth C. Collins, conductor :: International Saxophone Symposium :: George Mason Center for the Arts, Fairfax, VA
U.S. Navy Band Saxophone Quartet: Jonathan Yanik, soprano saxophone; Patrick Martin, alto saxophone; David Babich, tenor saxophone; Dana Booher, baritone saxophone
Severance was commissioned by the United States Navy Band. The title for the piece and for the second and third movements come from a linked collection of poetry called Severance by my friend Robert Fanning, who has been the muse for several of my recent works. Robert’s poetry often gives voice to my own emotional world in a way that is deeply important to me. In Severance, the main characters, two marionettes, Professor and Grief, sever their wires and escape the play and the theatre in Winterland in “search for a life untethered and authentic, crossing from day into night, from wood into flesh, from wakefulness into dream, from ice into thaw. Severance sings of a way—through the narrows of time and body—toward healing.” (Severance by Robert Fanning, Salmon Poetry).
In the first movement, Clouds of Remembering, I introduce all of the musical material for the piece, but it is often shrouded and ephemeral, always fleeting, like the distant memory of something or someone lost.
The second movement, Every Way Through Hurts, is dedicated to my friend Jovanni-Rey Verceles de Pedro. Jovanni and I met at the University of Michigan while completing our graduate work. He was a pianist, professor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. After graduation, we both moved to Idaho—Jovanni taught piano at the University of Idaho, and I taught music composition and theory at Boise State University. He recorded my Rhapsody for solo piano on his first studio album, and I had planned to write him a new piece, but Jovanni died suddenly in the summer of 2019 while traveling with the global nonprofit organization he founded. When I heard about his passing it took my breath away. At 36 years old—a young, hopeful, energetic musician, a person with whom I felt a kinship and a related musical path—it just didn’t seem possible that he was gone. The outpouring of grief from his friends and family was extraordinary—he had connected with so many people through music. There is no way around grief—every way through it hurts—but very gradually, the waves of grief become smaller and grow farther apart, and we come to know that we can weather them. This music is for Jovanni, and the piano plays a prominent role, often gently tracing the saxophone solo lines like some strange shadow or echo.
The third movement, Follow the threads: Unstrung, begins with metaphorical darkness. The saxophonists play slow melodic lines—threads—that are passed around the quartet and are eventually passed to the ensemble as the quartet’s music transforms into raindrops and then into a peculiar dance. I imagine the marionettes dancing, awkwardly at first, recently untethered and free from their strings, but becoming assured and ecstatic as they dance through grief, through their scars, through the waves, and toward healing.
Robert Fanning’s Severance is published by Salmon Poetry and you can find out more about his work at www.robertfanning.wordpress.com.