Chris Whyte

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Had an excellent day meeting and working with students at Grants…

Had an excellent day meeting and working with students at Grants Pass High School. Keep up the great work!


Embellished

My new piece for large percussion ensemble, Embellished, will premiere in the next month with the Union High School Percussion Ensemble from Camas, WA.  I figured I would take a few moments to talk about the process for writing this piece since there are so many ways a new piece of music can come about.

In this particular case, my good friend and colleague Lewis Norfleet (the band director at Union HS) approached me about writing a piece for the percussion ensemble this year.  I’ve worked with the ensemble for about two years, and we’ve accomplished some great things in that time including performing at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, IL in December of 2010 as well as being recognized as the best high school percussion ensemble in both large and small categories in the state of Washington for two years in a row. 

For this piece, we wanted to find something unique to create a spectacle.  Lewis has written a couple of great pieces for this ensemble himself, and always manages to do something larger than life.  He wanted this piece to do the same.  

About three years ago, I came into possession of a set of Almglocken that previously belonged to my teacher and mentor, Charles Dowd.  This particular set of tuned cowbells was used for the Joseph Schwantner Percussion Concerto, and the specific pitches make up an octatonic scale (a scale of eight notes that alternates between whole notes and half notes).  When I brought these to show to Lewis, we decided we should use them as a central part of the piece.

From there, much of the piece developed around the use of these tuned bells, and the scale they are built around.  The octatonic scale has some unique properties and chords built into it which made developing the material quite engaging.  In addition, the almglocken sparked the idea of “Bells” more generally.  I started developing that idea and thinking of how many ways we could use bells and how the concept of bells could be represented throughout the piece.  As a result, there are some subtle (and not so subtle) hints at ringing bells throughout the piece.  A clock tower ringing the hour, church bells, the Carol of the Bells.  All of these elements started making their way into the piece.  

I actually chose the title “Embellished” before finishing the piece.  The obvious play-on-words worked for the material I’d developed thus far, but led to inspiration for finishing the piece as well.  For much of the latter half of the piece, I took inspiration from other famous works for percussion ensemble, or even recognizable rhythms from parts of the orchestral repertoire including Bolero and On the Waterfront, and ‘embellished’ them to work within the framework I’d laid out.  

It is my hope that the piece works on a number of levels: the intellectual, emotional, and visceral, as well as musical.  

Every piece is different, and this one has been a real blast to come up with!


It’s a good morning for some Hindemith.

It’s a good morning for some Hindemith. Playing Concerto for Orchestra with the Oregon Symphony this weekend. He’s pretty much the 20th century equivalent of J.S. Bach.


The Portland Percussion Group performs Shifty by Dennis…

The Portland Percussion Group performs Shifty by Dennis DeSantis.


The So Called Laws of Nature, Mvt. 3 by David Lang

The So Called Laws of Nature, Mvt. 3 by David Lang

Here’s another piece performed by the Portland Percussion Group.  This piece uses teacups, coffee cups, some flower pots and ceramic bowls as well as crotales (the thin metal discs), high pitched wood blocks and a guiro (the wooden instrument we scrape a couple of times).

This is the third (and most serene) of the piece.


The Portland Percussion Group plays Double Music by John Cage…

The Portland Percussion Group plays Double Music by John Cage and Lou Harrison.


It’s almglocken time.

It’s almglocken time.


Percussionists Go From Background to Podium

Percussionists Go From Background to Podium:

“If you think about it, drums are the new violins.”


The Portland Percussion Group’s recording of Steve…

The Portland Percussion Group’s recording of Steve Reich’s “Drumming”

via Tumblr http://paukentoph.tumblr.com/post/39030969106


The beginnings of my new piece for large percussion ensemble. …

The beginnings of my new piece for large percussion ensemble. Experimenting is fun!

via Tumblr http://paukentoph.tumblr.com/post/39029865340


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