Visitations (2002) ca. 12′
Solo multi-percussion (Marimba, Vibraphone. Crotales, Cymbal, Tam-tam, Bass Drum)
Commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program
Recorded by Joe Gramley in 2006 (see Discography).
Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music,
or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $7.50:
Program Note, taken from Gramley’s CD and written by John Beck:
During Gramley’s days with Ethos, the group performed two of CHARLES GRIFFIN’s percussion quartets, one of them a commission (“The Persistence of Past Chemistries”). In 2001, with the aid of a Meet-the-Composer grant from New Music Marimba, Gramley got ready to begin collaborating with Griffin on a solo piece using multi-keyboard composition. Their first brainstorming session, destined to be rescheduled, was set for the morning of September 11 at Gramley’s studio in Manhattan.
Charles Griffin, a native New Yorker whose choral and instrumental works have been performed throughout the U. S. and Europe, remembers how the 9/11 attacks “colored our moods and thoughts” every time he and Gramley met in the months that followed. During an early work session, while improvising with Gramley’s mallets on the marimba, the composer came up with an opening whose “mood reminded [him] a little of Randall Thompson’s choral work Alleluia,” a reverent request for peace written during the Second World War.
Much of what Griffin wrote next would be marked by fragmentation and violence, but he remembers how, around January of 2002, the first snowfall of the season created one of those cityscapes that make New York “beautiful in a way it isn’t at any other time.” Some of the anger about September 11 was beginning to leave him, and the coda to his new composition came back around to the prayerful opening section in a way that may suggest conciliation to a listener.
Visitations would not be fully finished until early 2004, shortly before Gramley recorded it. Griffin explains that when a composer assembles a unique combination of musical instruments for a single percussionist, “it’s as if he’s creating a brand new instrument.” In the complex Visitations, Griffin wrote for three keyboards: concert marimba, vibraphone and crotales—small, chromatic, antique Turkish bells. At the piece’s climax, a bass drum, cymbals and gongs are also heard. Griffin knew he had “this really amazing, just monster, player” in Joe Gramley, but he also knew, during their months of collaboration, that he was pushing the performer toward—and sometimes even beyond—his limits.
Gramley remembers his own approach to the work becoming much more serious and deeply focused in the post-9/11 atmosphere, but he describes the mental and physical challenges with a kind of athletic relish. While pointing out how the keyboards require three different types of mallets (switched by the performer “when either hand has a moment off”), he also catalogs the different sorts of strokes he’s got to keep alternating: “very hard downstroke; quick upstroke; smooth, full downstroke. And don’t forget the pedal in the vibraphone! Visitations is such a balancing act that in order to perform it, I’ve got to take off my shoes. Otherwise I’ll slip off the pedal.” Memorization of Griffin’s music also proved a must: “There is no physical way for me to look at four different performance environments—and sheet music to boot.”
And yet, what pleases Gramley most—the surest indicator of his successful collaboration with Griffin—is how the emotional beauty of the piece never gets lost in the performing tour de force it requires.