Wednesday, May 9, 2012
John Hollenbeck's "The Drum Major Instinct"
I am eagerly anticipating seeing John Hollenbeck perform his composition "The Drum Major Instinct" this Friday at I Beam. The piece is based on a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I heard "The Drum Major Instinct" at Symphony Space many years ago and it was an incredibly moving experience. You can listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech here.
Here are some notes on the piece by Steve Smith:
"Hollenbeck makes use of a recorded sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in "The Drum Major Instinct." The piece is scored for two tenor trombones, bass trombone, drumset, and the taped voice of King. According to Hollenbeck, he chose trombones "because statistically they’re the most humble in a big band setting – they are the team players." He had not yet encountered the sanctified trombone choirs of Harlem, but had been impressed with trombonist Gary Valente’s "preaching" in the band of Carla Bley, leading him to feel that the instrument had the right "spiritual characteristics" for the piece. Nor had he heard drummer Max Roach’s LP Chatahoochie Red, which also makes use of a King speech. Hollenbeck sets King’s words in an entirely different way from his legendary forebear, yet both find an artistic affinity in the orator’s martial cadences.
"The Drum Major Instinct" is performed in total darkness, so that the presence of the musicians would be as invisible as that of the orator himself – necessitating memorization of the written materials. The piece begins and ends with a simple four-chord cell, and follows the rhythms of King’s heroic oratory – drawing upon its emotional power while simultaneously creating a dramatic setting for it. At times, the players follow the cadences of the speech, while elsewhere they comment freely upon it, like a congregation echoing the words of the minister. The piece builds in intensity along with the sermon, resolving into a chorale as King’s message reaches its climax. At the end, the instrumentalists follow King down the aisle of the church and shut the door behind them as they exit."
This performance is part of the Undead Music Festival, which is putting on concerts from May 9th-12th. Lots of great stuff!