PJCE guitarist and operations director Ryan Meagher continues his series of interviews of the composers for this Friday’s concert of music based on the Bonneville Dam by turning the lens on himself and telling us a bit about the piece he’s written:
1. What is the title of your piece? What does it mean?
The title of my piece is Cascades Rapids. The piece is named after a once infamous stretch of the Columbia through which navigation was nearly impossible by boat. Boats either had to portage or pull through them with ropes. When the Bonneville Dam was constructed the treacherous rapids were fully submerged and passage through that stretch of river was no longer difficult.
2. What should the audience listen for when the band plays the piece?
When I composed this piece I was intending to depict my vision of what it might have been like to canoe through the rapids. I composed melodic lines that bounced their way down from the top of the staff to the bottom. I used very dark-sounding harmonies to paint a sense of danger. I used repeate, but unexpected rhythmic patterns to convey the crashing current on the side of the canoe. It ends serenely but aimlessly which symbolizes that the immediate challenge is over, but the river continues on.
3. How was composing this piece for the PJCE different than composing the same piece for a more traditional big band setting?
Well, instrumentation is the main difference. Being commissioned by the PJCE has introduced me to composing for horn (French horn). If it were not for the PJCE, I may not have ever written any music for that instrument. And let me tell you that having a horn in a jazz setting is such a welcome addition. But the number of instruments in the PJCE is different than a typical big band, too.
Honestly, I think my writing style lends itself more to this style of instrumentation than a typical big band because when I compose I do not like to use big chords voiced in each section. I like to use melodic lines, timbre, and cross-section voicing to blur which voice actually has the melody and/or support. I do not think of myself as an impressionist composer, but perhaps the way that I view orchestration is a bit impressionistic.