Symphony No. 10 (grade 6)
Symphony No. 10 was commissioned by Travis Nasatir (conductor and music director), Debra Watanuki (manager), and the Mission Peak Wind Symphony in celebration of their 5th anniversary. I first met Travis and Debbie in 2017, when I came to California for a premiere with Greg Conway’s band from Hopkins Middle School, which coincided with a performance by the MPWS of my Symphony No 6. It was a fantastic experience from start to finish, and I was astounded by both the technical and expressive abilities of the students in the ensemble. It was truly an incredible weekend for me, and I left California feeling elated.
A few months later, Travis contacted me to inquire about the possibility of composing a piece for the ensemble. I was, of course, honored by the request, but even more excited that he had asked for a “major work,” an opportunity to challenge myself, and one that I rarely receive. I began to consider what kind of piece to write, wanting to compose a work that would be exciting and meaningful for Travis and the MPWS, but also wanting to find something that would be meaningful for me as well. Strangely, although I searched for ideas, the eventual subject matter for the symphony seemed to find me rather than the other way around. As it turns out, 2018 was a tumultuous, emotional, and eventually reflective year, with two unrelated but extremely impactful events. First, in September I celebrated my 50th birthday. I have never been one to be affected by the “significant” birthdays in my life, but for some reason this one gave me pause. Fifty years is a long time…and it made me stop to consider my past, present, and future experiences. What was important to me? What did I want out of my life? Second, and more important, in August my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a jolt to our coherent existence, giving my wife and me months of experiences that we would both just as soon forget. My wife was incredibly brave throughout this ordeal and, thankfully, the diagnosis was very early and treatment seems to have been successful. We have much to be grateful for, but there is no doubt that we were both shaken and changed.
I began to reflect on the nature of my life and the ways in which it has been filled with what might be considered both good and bad experiences, and a sense that there is some sort of balance to it all, what Eastern philosophy refers to as the yin and yang. This duality in my life has certainly allowed me to appreciate the good moments when they come and, in fact, I began to consider how some of my favorite parts of life are actually those small transcendent moments when I realize how beautiful it all is….standing at the edge of the ocean, or looking at the millions of stars in my backyard night sky, or holding one of my children in my loving arms. Ultimately, that is what this symphony is about.
As I began to approach the musical materials for the piece, I struggled trying to find the “right stuff,” spending days of fruitless effort. Eventually I realized that since my connection with the MPWS came through my Symphony No. 6, it might be logical to return to that material and the approach I used in that particular piece. Therefore, the entire symphony is built on the ascending form of what is technically an F melodic minor scale, using the core thematic material of the following seven note row: C G D F E Ab Bb. This row becomes what I have chosen to call The Tune, the most important melody of the piece. Each section of the work then cycles through a “mode” of that row, with the tonic for each section “spelling out” the inversion of the row over the course of the piece. Because of the differing half and whole step constructions of the various modes, I was able to explore vastly different harmonic and melodic landscapes, creating what becomes an alternating palette of light and dark sections….the dualities of life. This duality is further reflected by the fact that within each major section of the work there are two subsections; the “B” part works similarly to the “A” part, with the tonic of each gradually “spelling out” the prime version of the row and transposing the mode to that key area, thus providing a further division of the material into two parts. Symphony No. 10 is comprised of eight interconnected sections (beginning and ending in the key of C): Questions With No Answers, Menacing Anger, The Innocence of Love, The Fearful Silence of Night, Bittersweet Memories, Fierce Determination, Consumed by Panic and Desperation, and Life is Beautiful.