Complicated Optimism

Music of Rodney Rogers

Riffing in Tandem

When I began this piece, two challenges were central to the project: creating a sense of dialogue between the two pianos—there are two players but only one instrument type—and incorporating contrasting styles into a three-movement plan. Spinning Out took as its point of departure the idea of spontaneous music that does not rely on traditional structural types. I selected improvised fragments, tossing them around in a toccata-like framework. These loosely organized motives were sporadically `worked out,' what German writers often refer to as Fortspinnung (literally `spinning forth'). But the term often implies a methodical approach to composition, and that was definitely not what I had in mind. So the title also hints at the possibility of spinning out of control.

The inner movement is a simple set of variations on the first music I learned at the piano—a children's hymn built on a pentatonic scale (using only the black notes on the piano keyboard). The movement pays homage to Rose, who introduced me to the piano at age three. An image of Rose Samstad's enormous upright piano with its dark-stained wood is one of the few vivid memories I hold from early childhood. I would sit before that piano, on Rose's lap, and try my luck at making sounds. With the help of Rose, I also learned to play the melody used for this movement. (As an adult, a mirage-like pattern would occasionally appear before me when tired or fatigued. For years, I could not quite define the image. Shortly after beginning work on Riffing, I awoke suddenly one morning and realized that the image was in fact the outline of the black notes of the piano and that the children's song was responsible for my early childhood memorization of this visual pattern. Since the day I awoke from that dream, I have never seen the image.)

The final movement, Curves and Hopes, is perpetual-motion music with a few chromatic diversions throwing in the curves suggested by the title. The energy subsides during a chromatic descent near the end of Curves, followed by echoes of the chromatic turns—riffs—of the first movement (including a light-hearted rendering of the BACH motive). Riffing in Tandem received its national premiere at the MTNA convention in Little Rock, Arkansas, on 2 April 1990.

Two Views

This and the next work are recent chamber pieces. The first movement, an unfolding quiet, is dedicated to the memory of Paul Hollinger, a colleague and mentor from my days at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Another colleague and friend, Steven Jordheim, commissioned the composition for the sesquicentennial observance of the patent for the saxophone and the founding of Lawrence University. The instrumentation includes the full complement of saxophones (an instrument that comes in six sizes) with the addition of seven percussionists, piano, and double bass. After the meditative opening movement, complicated optimism presents a lively re-working of the first movement's ideas (two views—of the same material). The recording features performances by students from Steven Jordheim's saxophone studio and percussionists from the studio of Dane Richeson.

Voices Rising

A phrase of medieval plainsong (Iste Confessor: `Hear now thy servants, when their joyful voices rise to thy presence') provides the source material for Voices. It opens with a quotation of the original chant as the performer slowly enters the room from offstage. Starting in darkness, the stage lights are slowly brought up during this `procession.' As the actual composition begins, the music becomes progressively animated. An embellished form of the chant is heard during the piece in segments written in a rubato/lyrical style in stark contrast to the principal fast music of the movement. The main material of Voices consists of quick, agile, rhythmic patterns (representing the `joyful voices' of the text). The clarinetist uses circular breathing, which allows the performer to make long phrases without stopping the flow of air through the clarinet. Additionally, the work utilizes a piano (but not a pianist). Having always been attracted to lively acoustical spaces, the piano provided me with an expanded resonance, not unlike that of a large church. (The piano also adds other voices to the clarinet's single one.) For this recording, the clarinetist is placed between two pianos to create a more symmetrical `echo' on either side of the performer. As the composition progresses, the volume and range increase until the piano strings begin to vibrate sympathetically with the clarinet sound. This results in an aura and resonance that envelops the instrument. Clarinetist Robert Spring, a colleague at ASU, commissioned Voices Rising and has performed it extensively here and abroad.

Crossing the Bar

This song was written at the request of a dear friend, Barbara Peterson. In a letter, she discussed symbolic elements of the poem. The song contains musical symbolism intended to acknowledge and complement this component of the poetry. For example, `home' is represented by the pitch B, while words in first person (`I' and `me') are given to Bb—the pitch that most closely connects to Barbara's name through the repetition of the letter B and b. While this symbolism is not apparent to the listener, it did give direction to the process of writing the song. I am particularly glad that this recording is included on the CD since both Barbara and the pianist, Marsha Johnson, have passed away. The performance reflects the musicality of Marsha and the soprano, Carol Meyer—containing no splices, the recording stands as a tribute to their artistry.

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call from me!

And may there be no meaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark:

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Numbering the Stars

This fanfare is the third movement of a brass quintet, Music for 5 in 3. While it contains references to the other two movements of the quintet, it is also designed to stand alone. The initial idea is generated from the opening phrase of an old Southern hymn, `Wondrous Love.' The title is a reference to both the use of numbers in structuring certain elements of the composition and the text of the final verse of the hymn. The Palo Verde Brass commissioned the work in 1995.

Prevailing Winds

For me, the music of Prevailing Winds contains stronger visual imagery than do my other compositions. It also seems more narrative, if only in a general sense—there is no specific story line, but I felt a bit like a storyteller while writing it. I pay homage to Henry Purcell in the long opening section (Summer Fanfares) that contains the idea of a `fantasia on one note.'

Prevailing Winds consists of four movements proceeding without pause in a fast/slow/fast/moderate tempo scheme. The subtitles imply an entire process: the beginning, middle and end of a season. Opening with restless energy and numerous motives, the music shifts to a reflective mood in Midsummer Moon (the keyboard instruments are silent throughout). In the Interlude, the music returns to a more animated character, with the piano as the focal point. The work concludes with the quiet of Summer's Farewell—the only set of ground bass variations I've written. Motives presented in Summer Fanfares reappear in transformed versions throughout the piece. From my perspective, the music represents the use of time as it appears in nature, a cycle of changes from birth to regeneration.

Much of the challenge in performing Prevailing Winds comes from its constantly varied rhythmic groupings. Scored for wind ensemble with many mallet instruments and piano four-hands (but no unpitched percussion), the work involves a large group of people playing rhythmically complex music. (Due in part to the length of the composition, it contains over 250 meter changes.) As one might imagine, this requires intense concentration from the musicians. The members of the LU Wind Ensemble under the direction of Robert Levy (for whom Prevailing Winds was written) put a considerable amount of time and energy into bringing this music to life—I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them.

Alleluia Sing the Stars

Alleluia was written while in residence at MacDowell Colony in the winter of 1981. I was there to compose Endsong (a large-scale composition for soprano and chamber ensemble), but needed a break from the intricate planning devised for that music. As a diversion, I decided to write a simple carol for voice and guitar. Over time it became the choral work recorded here. My music has always featured modal and diatonic scales, but has never incorporated the direct use of traditional tonality or one of its chief components, modulation. In this piece, I found a way to integrate modulation into my compositional style. The verses of the song follow a transpositional plan that is related to the pitches of the melody—for this idea I am indebted to Stravinsky and his Septet. The melody itself, though intentionally simple, contains an encryption that relates to the text, which I wrote.

The circumstances surrounding this recording are quite unusual. A high school choir had just arrived on campus after an eight-hour bus ride. Our choir director thought it might be nice for them to sit in on the recording session—I was not so sure. The performance turned out to be the choir's finest. (And the guest choir remained virtually silent throughout.)


Bringing music to acoustic life is a process that often involves the collaborative effort of many people

—without their talent this album would not exist. Each of these recordings has its own history:

a room (whether it be a recital hall with blue chairs and slanted walls, or a chapel and its stained-glass windows), the circumstances (a song for a friend, a commission to write with virtuosity in mind), and the performers, all combining to create a unique musical experience. This communal element is one of the most rewarding and mysterious aspects of composition.

A special word of thanks to Clarke Rigsby, whose editing skill was a constant source of amazement, and to Adam Barber for his much appreciated help in seeing the project through to its completion. Thanks also to David Richardson and Mary Jane Leary, my extended family during those years in Iowa City.

Clark Rigsby, recording engineer (tracks 1-3, 6, 8), editing (tracks 1-3, 6-13)

Larry Darling, recording and editing/mixing (tracks 4, 5, 9-12)

Ben Taylor, recording engineer (track 13)

Lowell Cross, recording (track 7)

Adam Barber, noise reduction (tracks 6, 7, 9-13)

Mastering by Dave Shirk, Sonorous Mastering, Tempe, AZ

Cover Design by Tony Amato, amato image Design, Tempe, AZ

Photography: Carol Shinn

Repertoire Consultant, Sam Pilafian (Tempest Recording)

Produced by Rodney Rogers

Publishers: Alleluia Sing the Stars: Associated Music Publishers, BMI

All other compositions: Rodney Rogers, BMI

*Paul Snyder, Lisa Rhoades, Paul Gronert, Javier Arau, Josh VandeHey, Ben Zabor, saxophones (sopranino to bass); Gabe Gloege, Seth Harris, Jeremy Kane, John Mack, Jason Roberts, Nate Smith, Kyle Struve, percussion; Roseanna Cannizzo, piano; Heidi Ritter, double bass

**Leslie Linn, trumpet; Donald Duncan, trumpet; James Graber, horn; Grant Jordan, trombone;

John Lofton, bass trombone