It has been a spring of collaboration with my family! First my mother was a featured soloist on an art film I had the privilege of scoring, then this gem of a project for my cousin. I could get used to this!
More than a year before the premiere of this piece, my dear cousin Miranda approached me and asked me to write a concert work for a very unlikely combination of instruments: Horn (Miranda, left) and Marimba (Danny, her awesome boyfriend on the right) for her senior recital at the University of Denver. Normally, I like to have an image, scene or story in mind before I even start writing, but in this case I was so struck by the combination of instruments that I started there: what can these two instruments do well, and what would the DNA of such a duet sounds like? I mulled this question over for a few months while I handled other projects – that’s composer jargon for “I procrastinated,” by the way.
Finally, I decided that since they are both pretty mellow timbres (for the most part – horn can get pretty rowdy if it wants to) that it should mostly be kind of a mellow, flowing piece. There’s something about the marimba especially that is so calming that agitated ostinatos and frantic fever dreams of sixteenths just seemed wrong. So I wrote a flowing A section of the exposition and as I did so, the descriptor “Twilight” just sort of popped into my head, which I decided to make more descriptive and sexy with “Murmurs.”
Now that I had strayed into familiar territory – finding imagery to help inspire – it was smooth sailing. Given the title, it made sense that the piece slowly lose energy as it goes along, mirroring the setting of the sun or the activities of most of the humans on our planet as twilight turns into evening (except maybe composers – ha!).
I couldn’t have been more proud of these two players. I ended up writing a piece that was far more difficult than I ever intended; and worse, I delivered it a mere month before it was to be performed. Granted, it is only seven minutes, but there were two sections that are just murderously difficult for the players. The first one is a lyrical stopped melody I wrote in for the Horn. I wanted to go for a softer, more Miles-Davis-y quality in the B’ section, not realizing that horn players are very rarely asked to play stopped for extended periods of time, much less lyrically. But my cousin pulled it off with her badass self!
The other one was a solo for the Marimba. Yes, I know, I’m a percussionist. But I am very rarely a percussion soloist, and I almost never play four-mallet marimba. So I plugged away happily writing this solo with a bunch of open sixths, which of course sound phenomenal on the piano or sample library but are extremely difficult to play quickly and accurately on a Marimba. Fortunately, Danny is an incredible player, and I also made sure to tell him that my intent with that section was to have a lot of rubato anyway, so I told him to take his time. The result was stunning.
What musicality! There was almost no instruction from me…the players took my notation and made magic out of it!
Similarly, the final section of the piece came off brilliantly, ending with a single bowed Marimba tone that is handed off from a very quiet muted horn.
This was an extremely special moment in my life, not just because it was the first concert piece I ever wrote that was performed in an official music hall, but also because two incredible people very dear to me were the ones to bring it to life. I hope that if someone ends up performing this piece again, it is a similarly special experience for them.
Below is the full version of the piece, please enjoy!