Monday, May 3, 2010

Dances of Earth and Fire

I don't remember exactly when the first time I heard this piece was... I believe it was my freshman year at Peabody. Either my freshman year or my sophomore year, but I would wager on it being my freshman year. Whatever. Regardless, the first person I ever heard perform this piece was actually the person I will be studying/working with next year, Ji Hye Jung. At this time, my understanding of music outside of the scope of classical tonality was pretty limited, and this was one of the pieces that left me mostly confused. Even then, though, I understood there was something profound about the piece. I just didn't know what.

My teacher put this piece on my recital program at the end of my fourth year at Peabody, and by then I understood the language of the piece much better. To put it as simply as I can, the piece is based on the octatonic scale--that is, a scale which is constructed of alternating whole steps and half steps. It's a mode of limited transposition, meaning that you only get three different transpositions of each scale. This being said, to call the piece "atonal" is simply inaccurate, which is what I did for years. It's not "atonal", it's just different than what I was used to.

The piece, as I presented it in my recital, was incomplete. I performed the first of two movements: "Dark and Heavy", or as my teacher calls it, the earth dance. The fire dance, also referred to as "Con Brio", is much more lively and technically demanding, while the first movement is much more emotionally demanding. I had prepared, and intended, to play both movements at my recital, but the program ended up being both longer and more physically draining than both my teacher and I had originally anticipated, and we decided to omit this movement from the performance. I would have loved to play it, but when it actually came time for me to perform this piece (the second to last piece on my program, not counting the "encore", Village Burial with Fire), I was exhausted--both emotionally and physically.

My exhaustion is very present to me in watching my performance now--I had a few memory slips I normally don't make, I played faster in general than I would've liked, my accuracy wasn't at it's best and I can tell my concentration was slipping. I'm still posting this for the sake of having my complete recital available to all those who couldn't make it, and it's been posted (way) out of order because I'm having some trouble extracting the earlier video. Even though it's definitely not the best performance I've given of this piece, it was the best I could do then. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity to perform this piece someday, and hopefully that performance will exceed this one.


  1. I really admire anyone who attempts this piece. It's a real marimba monster! Your reading is very good. Now: what about that 2nd movement? They should really be paired you know!
    Peter Klatzow

  2. Wow, thank you so much for your comment! The last thing I expected to find was a reply from the composer himself! I'm quite humbled, thank you.

    Anyway, I did prepare the second movement, and had fully intended on playing it... until Bob strongly advised me to cut it from my program just minutes before my recital. Looking back, I think he was right--I was quickly losing stamina, and I don't believe my hands (or my brain!) would've been able to keep up with the technical demands of the second movement. I'm sure you heard where my memory failed me in this performance... it would've have only gotten worse from there! I did work very hard on the second movement though, and I had been looking forward to those last six notes! I was disappointed I didn't get to play it... but once again, I think it was better to play it safe, rather than sorry!

    I'm reworking my technique from the bottom up (now that summer is here and I have TIME!), but I would love to tackle the whole piece again, and end it proper. And then put it on YouTube, of course :)

  3. My new works for marimba: "Sunlight Surrounds Her" for marimba and four instruments (Flute, Bassoon, Violin and Cello - it is almost a mini concerto) and Six Etudes for solo marimba, together with a set of Variations on a theme of Paganini (THE theme of course) for Two marimbas.
    The chamber piece was written for Marta Klimasara (Stuttgart) who also playes Dances of Earth and Fire. Do keep in touch. I really like your playing.

  4. I'll definitely look into playing more of your music--I'm quite a fan! ;) Thank you so much, and I will absolutely keep in touch--I'm sure we'll bump into each other on facebook sometime :)