8 Ball is an exploration of the emotional swings of grief — shock and sorrow, emptiness and isolation, pain and finality — mixed with wistful, treasured memories recognizing the blessing of sharing life with a loved one, and added to this the hope of eternal reunion. It’s written in memory of my brother, Tex, who we lost to COVID in 2020. In homage to his passion, dirt track racing, there is a contrasting section of paint-swapping, fender-bending frenzy, which comes to an all too sudden end as did his life. The title has nothing to do with billiards but refers to his long-tenured racing number and logo. The music uses unconventional scales which are actually six-tone pitch sets treated as different key centers that produce a lush mixture of consonance and dissonance that at turns feel comforting and unsettling. Writing 8 Ball was a cathartic experience to explore my own emotions, cement my brother’s proper place in my memories, and produce a tangible expression of my love for him. It was written as an assignment in the 2023 summer composition workshop at Tarrant County College. I’m grateful to my instructor, Dr. Aaron Kline, the music department at TCC, and the musicians of our performing quartet for their part in bringing this music to life.
“Crown Him” reinterprets the classic hymn tunes DIAMDEM and CORONATION (All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name) plus DIADEMATA (Crown Him with Many Crowns) as a unified grand anthem for orchestra. The music is celebratory and majestic offset with moments of intimacy appropriate for the coronation of our Eternal King. Sure to be thrilling for all listeners, it is suitable for use at Easter, Ascension Sunday, services in anticipation of Christ’s return or ultimate victory and, well, really any Sunday as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection every week. It is crafted for the variable instrumentation and skills of the typical church orchestra with frequent tuttis, exposed parts only where competent players are common, friendly keys and meters, liberal cues, no more than three musical lines at a time (usually just two), and musical figures well within the grasp of high school players. The one possible exception would be the timpani line where a fairly accomplished player is needed.
The music of You Were Once Darkness follows a redemptive arc, a journey from dark to light, from chaos to repose. It’s not meant to be auto-biographical but to be meaningful to anyone who has known the sweetness of overcoming personal brokenness, whether it might be addiction, self-destruction, religious deliverance, or other crisis. It approaches the topic from the perspective of overcoming self. The harmonies, rhythms, and timbres of the piece strive to portray this transition.
From the lone asphalt ribbon crossing the Hellroaring Plateau, a landmass on the northeast extremity of the Absaroka mountain range straddling the Montana-Wyoming border, one may note a distant narrow peak rising to the sky like a bear’s lower canine. Appropriately known as The Bear’s Tooth, this 300 foot pyramidal spire rises from the flank of Beartooth Mountain to a height of 11, 920 feet. It’s set amid stunning vistas stretching over a hundred miles lying underneath indigo skies with clouds seemingly within one’s grasp. Thus, the Bear’s Tooth earns its place as the inspiration and namesake for this movement of the Absaroka Suite, The Beartooth. The music is less programmatic than the other movements of the suite. To put it in other words the music doesn’t tell a story. Rather, developing themes introduced in Eastern Ascent, it reflects emotions sparked by the alpine landscape: wonder and awe at the massive landforms, a sense of life, freedom, and spaciousness amid the big skies and clear air polished with serenity in nature’s reflection of its Creator’s glory. The landscape’s heights and verticality are represented with persistently rising and contrastingly plunging motives. Bold punctuations evoke the awe of such a vast expanse. The cantering main theme expresses sensations of freedom, danger, and smallness, so unfamiliar to we technologically immersed, which must have been the staple diet of early explorers and natives in this land, lying much as it has for millennia. The theme’s upward leaps portray the peak’s sudden rising. The closing, fittingly marked “Serene,” imparts the utter peace one feels having come to know such an extraordinary place, to agree with the writer of Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”