Ancient Runes (Grade 3)
Ancient Runes was commissioned by Gregory Conway and the Hopkins Junior High School Bands (Fremont, CA) and premiered by their Wind Ensemble in May 2017.
The concept for the piece actually began when I was speaking to my friend, Amy Kotsonis (one of the choral directors at the University of Northern Iowa), and she showed me some large bamboo poles that she was using on a piece with her choirs. I loved the concept of both the visual and aural drama associated with using several of these poles as part of a work for band, imagining something dramatic and ritualistic. When I received the commission from Greg Conway, I felt as though it was the perfect opportunity to explore my idea, since Greg and his students have a wonderful program that isn't afraid to experiment with concepts that are "outside the box."
Ancient Runes is divided into three large and distinct sections: Introduction, Invocation, and Ritual. All of the pitch material for the work comes from the following octatonic scale: C, Db, Eb, E, F#, G, A, Bb. The musical material for the Introduction is fast and aggressive, featuring melodic elements that focus on a descending whole step. The Invocation introduces a new lyrical element, initially presented by a bassoon soloist and continuing with solos for tuba and alto saxophone. This gradually builds into the final section, Ritual, in which the bamboo poles finally appear. The melodic material from both the Introduction and the Invocation return over pulsating rhythmic percussion, before accelerating into a final frenzied conclusion.
Of course, any piece that explores this territory owes a great deal to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, one of my favorite pieces, and I have intentionally paid homage in two obvious ways. The first is in the Invocation, in which the lyrical bassoon solo references the opening of Stravinsky's work, and the second is in the climactic arrival of the Ritual, in which the ensemble unites on repeated chords comprised of the complete octatonic set, mimicking Stravinsky's famous "Augurs of Spring" chords.