A monthly musical offering by a composer member of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers.
Both your listening and comments are encouraged.
The conceptual inspiration for this piece was C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, particularly the end of the second book, Perelandra, in which the governing “eldila,” or angelic powers, for each of the known planets (minus Earth) engage in the Great Dance. The basic concept is that of an unending, complex, and intricate dance engaged in by the participants.
A primary musical influence on the composition of this piece (appropriately enough) would no doubt have to be Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Many of the musical motifs have obviously drawn their inspiration from that piece.
Kaleidoscope No. 7 was composed using a compositional technique I have dubbed “equitonalism”. The primary aspect of equitonalism is that any piece written using this technique must give more-or-less equal attention to each of the twelve major (and/or minor) tonal centers. That is, an equitonal piece is not written in any one “key”, but it traverses through each key giving equal attention to each. This is derived from certain other 20th century compositional techniques (such as serialism, in which each tone in a twelve-tone row is deemed equally important). I have simply taken the concept in a different direction and applied it to tonal centers, rather than individual notes.
Equitonal works also, by their nature, tend to be cyclical in concept (though not necessarily). Ideally, they may be started at any point and will arrive “back where they started” eventually. This also means that they may be looped endlessly (starting immediately at the beginning once the end of the score is reached) without damaging the integrity of the piece. This is because most of the pieces (either projected or already composed) are based upon cyclical concepts—such as metamorphosis in the natural world, or the turning of the seasons, or the hours of the day.
Equitonal works typically employ some harmonic progression to traverse the tonal centers in a logical order (though hopefully not in a pedantic or obvious way!). This orderliness is not necessarily the case, however, and is considered a secondary feature of equitonalism.
In keeping with the Biblical numerical symbolism I am using throughout my Kaleidoscopes series, the number of the piece (7) is prominent in every aspect of the piece. Thus, there are 7 distinct musical motifs used in this piece, one for each of the participants in the dance (though only 6 are actively “engaged in the dance” at any given moment). 7 distinct timbres are used for each of the 7 “voices”, one voice for each participant. The meter is 7/8; the tempo is 84 bpm (7 x 12); there are exactly 168 measures (7 x 24—the number of hours in a week, not coincidentally); the piece runs exactly 7 minutes; and so forth.
(12 is the other major number—related to the idea of moving through all 12 major and 12 minor modes throughout the course of the piece, and to the frequency with which the number 12 is found in units of time12 hours on the clock, 12 months in the year, 5 x 12 seconds in a minute, 5 x 12 minutes in an hour, 2 x 12 hours in a day, and so forth.)
This composition was begun while working on my master’s degree in Music Composition at Bowling Green State University. It was the second piece conceived and composed using the concept of equitonalism, and the first to move through all 12 major and minor tonal centers.
On the Kaleidoscope Series:
I was mired in a compositional logjam and had been for a couple of years. I had a sense that I was heading somewhere and was about to stumble upon whatever it was I was looking for as the next step in my development as a composer—I just didn’t know where!
This was the situation when, as a Christmas gift in 1987, a belovéd friend gave my new wife and me a beautiful handmade stained-glass kaleidoscope. The experience of looking through this marvelous device for the first time was so intensely moving that within a day or two the logjam was broken, and I was moving energetically down a new course as a composer.
The result is my Kaleidoscopes series. There are twelve Kaleidoscopes projected for the entire series, about two-thirds of which are done at this time. Each one is an attempt to put into aural terms something of the experience one has visually upon looking through a high-quality kaleidoscope such as the one we received as a gift.
Each of these works takes a distinctly different approach to the concept, and the result is a quite varied series of pieces. Some are conceived for live acoustic-instrument performance, others for strictly “electro-acoustic” presentation, and still others for a mixture of live and electro-acoustic. Each one draws its inspiration from the number assigned to it, with each number taking on the numerical significance it has in the Christian Bible. Subtitles are always, if obliquely, reflective of this numerical significance, as are the compositional underpinnings.
Part of the reason I chose to share Kaleidoscope No. 7 with the CFAMC membership is because it reflects much of what I feel a life of faith is: A never-ending, endlessly varied, hopelessly intricate, and incredibly simple and intimate dance with the God Who created all the great spheres of our lives. The cycles of life and faith continue to amaze and fascinate meand infuse me with an ever-growing sense of wonder and awe at the immensity and infinitely inventive and imaginative power of the Creator, Who created us in His image as creators in our own right.
In many ways, I believe we are never closer to our Father God and never more conformed to His image than when we are participating with Him in the creative process. That is why I rejoice to be able to call myself a composer, because I also believe that music is one of His most holy, precious, and glorious gifts. Of all the creative endeavors in which humankind can participate, I believe this to be one of the highest and best. Yet it also humbles me beyond words to contemplate that He might use such as I am to bring into the world a work that might in some small measure reflect to the world His beauty and power and glory.
At least, I pray it might be even so…
…known variously as Chuck (to most of my friends and acquaintances), as COBI to that part of the world to whom I wish to appear somewhat mysterious and intriguing, and as Charles only to my wife and my mother—and then usually only when I am in hot water!
Do you really expect me to be able to do this in one or two short paragraphs?
Let’s just say that, for our present purposes, I have been involved in music almost all my life. Born of a music teacher and a fairly competent amateur musician, I learned my ABCs on the printed page and the piano at the same time, starting at around age 5.
In many ways, my life as a musician has been a classic love-hate relationship. At times idolatrous in my desire to be recognized as one of the “great” composers, at other times I have been in such depths of despair that I wanted only to be free of the curse.
Formal training? Graduated from my high school as one of its most confirmed music jocks. Attended Ohio Wesleyan University as a composition major, only to abandon ship when I finally realized that the composition prof there and I would never truly meet, anywhere, on anything. Took on an identity as a “devoted avocational” musician and composer. Returned to university years later, mostly to complete what I had started, and earned my master’s degree in composition at Bowling Green State University. Had no stomach for further graduate study in composition, and have had no success whatever with the music publishing world; so I continue to wallow in the mire of indeterminacy, never quite able to make up my mind whether I really have a gift or I am deluding myself.
But in the end, whether truly talented or delusional, I find I cannot actually abandon the gift I somehow am compelled to believe that God really did give me. Now, if I could only figure out what He wants me to do with it!
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