Between the Heaves of Storm premieres in Lousiana and Utah, March 15 & 18, 2024

Percussionist Gregory Lyons (Professor of Music and the James Alvey Smith Endowed Professor at Louisiana Tech University) and Multi-wind player Trevor Davis (Director of Woodwinds at at Southern Utah University) commissioned a brand new 8-minute work from me for their Delamo Duo.

Between the Heaves of Storm is written in three movements:
I. (Seductive, serpentine) scored for Alto Saxophone and Vibraphone;
II. (Moderate, with a rock swing/attitude) for Tenor Saxophone and Marimba; and
III. (Aggressive, ritualistic, dangerous) for Baritone Saxophone and mixed percussion/player’s choice

The premiere will be at Howard Auditorium (a 1,150-seat performance venue at Louisiana Tech University) this Friday, March 15 at 7PM. They’ll follow up that performance on Monday, March 18 at 7:30PM at Thorley Recital Hall on the campus of Southern Utah University.

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Die Freudenkrone: Ehrerbietung zu J.S. Bach (Organ, Timpani, SATB Choir)

Organ, Timpani and SATB Choir (2007) ca. 11’

Commissioned by the City of Liepāja for organist Lotars Džeriņš to premiere at the VI International Organ Music Festival in Liepāja, Latvia.
Premiered September 8, 2007. With Normunds Everts, Timpani and the Chamber Choir Intis, directed by Ilze Valce

Purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $50 and make all the necessary copies for your group. You can also email me for sample pages beforehand.:

Program note:

The title of this work translates to The Crown of Joy: Homage to J.S. Bach, and is part of the text from the chorale movement (verse six) of Bach’s Cantata BMV 103. For this piece, I used that chorale melody (with my own harmonization), along with fragments taken from his toccata and fugue in D dorian (BMV 538).

Ich habe dich einen Augenblick,
O liebes Kind, verlassen;
Sieh’ aber, sieh’, mit großem Glück
Und Trost ohn’ alle Maßen
Will ich dir schon die Freudenkrone
Aufsetzen und verehren;
Dein kurzes Leid soll sich in Freude
Und ewig Wohl verkehren.

I have for a moment,
my dear child, left you;
but see, see, with great good fortune
and comfort beyond all measure
I shall on you the crown of joy
place and honour;
Your brief suffering will into joy
and everlasting good be changed.

English Translation by Francis Browne (February 2002), taken from

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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.

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Twisting Magnetic Spins (Percussion Ensemble)

Percussion Ensemble (2005) 7’
7 Players (see full instrumentation below)

Commissioned and premiered by the University of North Texas Percussion Ensemble, Mark Ford, Director.

Listen to an excerpt from the premiere at UNT:


Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $25:

Program Note:

Twisting Magnetic Spins was commissioned by the University of North Texas for Mark Ford, the director of percussion studies there. Ever since I wrote The Persistence of Past Chemistries for Ethos Percussion Group several years before, where I restricted the sonic palette to instruments primarily made from wood or organic materials, I wanted to write another piece with the same restriction, but this time with metals. The main solos are taken by the vibraphone and the timpani, but perhaps the bigger challenge for the ensemble is the necessity for the accompanying metallophones to play very softly part of the time. After the premiere, this piece was featured by ASU’s percussion ensemble (J.B. Smith, director) at the 2006 PASIC conference in Austin, Texas as part of the New Ensemble Literature session.

Instrument list:
Tibetan Bowls (4) – or reasonable substitute, such as mounted hand-bells with medium yarn mallets
Timpani (4)
Metal Trash Can
Thunder Sheet
Suspended Cymbal
Brake Drums (3)
Nipple Gongs (2)
Wind Gong
Agogo Bells (2)

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Kusanganisa (Flute and Marimba 4-hands)

Flute and Marimba Four-Hands, one movement (2003) ca. 6’30”
Commissioned by Queens Council on the Arts for the ensemble Percussia, Ingrid Gordon, director.

Listen to an excerpt performed by Nicole Camacho, flute, with Chris Bonacorsa and Cesare Papetti, marimba:

Kusanganisa excerpt     

Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $9:

Program Note:

Kusanganisa is a Shona word, which describes the idea of ‘mixture’. This piece is an arrangement of a work originally written for Flute, Violin, Cello, Percussion and Mbira, a sort of thumb piano of Zimbabwean origin. I chose the title to reflect the mixture of instruments from different cultures and the mixture of cultural influences I hope you’ll hear in the piece; the mbira passages translated to the upper register of the marimba in the middle of the piece, for example. Kusanganisa was commissioned by the Queens Council for the Arts for Ingrid Gordon and her ensemble, Percussia. I rearranged the piece at the request of three of my (now former) students at Hofstra University.

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Cambiando Paisajes (Piano and 2 Percussionists)

Cambiando Paisajes (Shifting Landscapes) (2003, rev. 2005) 9’
Piano and 2 Percussion (Marimba, Vibraphone, Small Drum Kit & Latin Percussion.
Commissioned for pianist Teresa McCollough by Santa Clara University.
Premiered April 25, 2003 at Santa Clara University, California.

Program Note:

Cambiando Paisajes (Shifting Landscapes) was commissioned by Santa Clara University for pianist Teresa McCollough. The piece explores and develops upon various standard Salsa rhythms and keyboard riffs. Growing up in New York, where we have two big Latin music radio stations (not to mention a huge Latin American population), I’ve long had a quiet love affair with Salsa music, and the thought to integrate this music in a new piece gained momentum for me over a period of several years. In the summer of 2000, on Cinco de Mayo, at the South Street Seaport, I saw a Salsa band whose singer was also the conga player. The rhythmic independence required to carry out the vocal line against a completely different conga part was staggering to me. I traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico in October 2001 for the Cervantino Festival, and gravitated toward the Salsa clubs in town, and subsequently began frequenting some of the Salsa clubs in Manhattan and the Bronx. There’s an excellent movie called Cuba Feliz, that follows an elder, itinerant singer/guitarist named El Gallo (The Cricket) from city to city to village in Cuba, and I was struck by how often a passerby could grab an instrument or percussion, sing along, make up lyrics on the spot. I envy such a broadly participatory music culture. While I had those sounds in my ears for a long time, I hadn’t delved into it much musically. So, as part of a selfish experiment, I began making my ear-training students deal with solfeging Salsa melodies and clapping clave rhythms simultaneously. I learned how to do it first so I could demonstrate. Once I realized I had personally internalized a fair amount of that music, I felt free to write this piece. At the same time, I wasn’t trying to write an actual piece of Salsa music, but rather to see what I could derive from an exploration of these specific materials, namely the clave rhythm and particular piano riffs.

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The Persistence of Past Chemistries (Percussion Quartet)

Percussion Quartet (1998) ca. 9+’
Scored for Marimba, Xylophone, Cajon, and various standard mixed percussion (all wood).
Commissioned by Ethos Percussion Group under the auspices of the Jerome Foundation.
Premiered at Weill Recital Hall. Recorded by them in 1999 (see Discography).

Performed by Ethos Percussion Group

Ethos performed this work extensively in the U.S., including at Weill Recital Hall in New York at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Subsequent notable performances include PASIC 2003 by the NIU Percussion Quartet and PASIC 2004 by Ethos. It has been performed at several universities too: Rice, UNT, and Northwestern, among others. It has recently come into the repertoire of Exit 9 Percussion (New Jersey) and Tambuco (Mexico).Here is Ethos playing the last five minutes of the piece live at Symphony Space in New York City.

Program Note:

One of the ways that Professor Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachussets defines life in her book What is Life?, is as “patterns of chemical conservation in a universe tending toward heat loss and disintegration. . . . Death is part of life because even dying matter, once it reproduces, rescues complex chemical systems and budding dissipative structures from thermodynamic equilibrium. . . . Preserving the past, making a difference between past and present, life binds time, expanding complexity and creating new problems for itself.”I hit upon the title for this piece after I had already decided to restrict the sonic palette exclusively to instruments made of wood, a way to acknowledge this uniquely human reconstitution of organic matter. Not only do the instruments give the trees from which they came new life, but the musicians also bring new life to their instruments. Furthermore, my music tends to be the sum of sometimes disparate parts that take on new life through their integration; jazz, latino, and minimalist music all coexist in The Persistence of Past Chemistries.  

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Fist Through Traffic

Alto Saxophone and Percussion Ensemble
(1+8 players) 3 Movements, (1993) ca. 8′
Full instrumentation: Eb Alto Saxophone, Vibraphone, Marimba, Chimes, Timpani, Congas (2 or 3), Timbales (2), Tom (2), Bass Drum, Sand Blocks, Claves, Triangle, Cowbell (more cowbell!!), Tambourine, Suspended Cymbal, Hi-Hat, Brake Drums (2), Whistle
Premiered by the University of Minnesota Percussion Ensemble, Fernando Meza, director, with Richard Dirlam, Saxophone.

Listen to a performance of the 2nd movement, with Anthony Canestro and the Queens College Percussion Ensemble:

Industry - 2nd. Mvt. of Fist Through Traffic     

Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $25.

Subsequent notable performances include: Queens College Percussion Ensemble, Michael Lipsey, Director, with Anthony Canestro; Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble, Paul Vaillancourt, Director, with Amy Griffiths; North Carolina School of the Arts Percussion Ensemble, John Beck, Director, with Taimur Sullivan; and Interlochen Percussion Ensemble, Kim Burja, Director, with Timothy McCallister. Recorded in 2012 by Saxophonist Amy Griffiths and the Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble. The Audio CD is also available here.

Program Note:

A composer can only really express their perception of the world through the filter of their own experience, and since my earliest musical experiences revolved around singing and drumming, I often incorporate in my writing elements of popular and/or world music that are most compelling to me, within the context of continuing a concert music tradition. Written in 1993 while a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Fist Through Traffic is a three-movement work that comes from this impulse.
The title of the work comes from a line from a Paul Simon song as an homage (I was listening to his Rhythm of the Saints album quite a lot at that time) and to reflect my sympathy for his approach to songwriting, which in the long run has also been about integrating diverse elements from outside his native experience or from outside the expectations of the genre into his personal style.

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