Program Note for All in Golden Measure (2013)


(excerpt to be added)

All in Golden Measure was commissioned by the Jacksonville Symphony Society in Jacksonville, Illinois to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Symphony Orchestra.   As I thought about what kind of piece to write for this occasion, I knew right away that I wanted to use material that the orchestra and audience would associate with Jacksonville.  Because the orchestra started 50 years ago at MacMurray College and now performs at Illinois College, I thought it would be appropriate to base the piece on the Alma Maters from those institutions.  I also thought the piece could unfold in golden proportions, where the themes are interwoven to create a rich texture.  Finally, I wanted to add special sounds: the noise of train whistles that permeate all parts of Jacksonville, the sounds of cicadas that occur in regular cycles here, and the sound of the race track that resonates in the air on summer evenings.  After working with the Alma Mater themes – there are actually two from MacMurray College that work well in counterpoint with each other – I found they all had a similar properties.  They usually yielded pentatonic (five note) collections, they were very hymn-like, and they had lots of harmonic movement in fourths (like an “Amen” cadence). This guided me toward the final structure of the piece.

The work opens with a distant rumble and interweaves and introduces portions of all the Alma Mater themes slowly in a large crescendo.  The pitches of G and A (for Maestro Garrett Allman) underpins the opening.  A bold section follows that presents the Illinois College theme, followed by a broader section that treats both MacMurray themes simultaneously.  All themes quickly combine and, upon merging, new melodies start to unfold.  At the “golden measure” all the themes are layered on top of each other with full orchestra, including the tune “Flow Gently Sweet Afton.”  This new tune – in a different key – is from another time (and in another meter).  It was written by one of I.C.’s first graduates, Jonathan Spilman (class of 1835), who was a composer.  As a composer now working at Illinois College, I wanted to incorporate his music as a special signature, but I also used this tune as a signal that changes the piece.  Immediately following this section, the organ enters with a new hymn - an anthem for Jacksonville - and all other instruments eventually join in this hymn.  (If you are tracking time in the piece and not counting measures, the golden section is also found when the full orchestra starts to play this hymn.)   After the hymn, another quiet rumble of the train goes by and we are left with fragments of “Flow Gently Sweet Afton.”  The last section leads us forward en masse to a bold, bright ending and, like a large train, the piece comes to a stop.