No instrument groups have as much personality than do the woodwinds.

Each member: flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons create sound by resonating the volume of air within them in a unique way. Woodwind Quintet 2 exploits these instruments’ brilliance and articulate versatility within a unique set of parameters for each of four movements.

click to download score

The first movement, “Nostalgia”, mutates harmony with alternate fingerings. “Alone”, stacks up 7th intervals to support the oboe spread across extreme registers. In the third, the horn floats over a “Great River” of interlocking arpeggios. In the final movement, the flute beatboxes a hip-hop ‘beat’, over which the ensemble careens from stability to flight and back.

This quintet was written for the  Alterity Chamber Orchestra‘s principal winds from late May through July 15th 2017 via a call for scores by  CF2 . It premiered on October 15th, 2017 at the White House, home of the Timucua Music Foundation. Thank you, Timucua for recording this work and allowing me to post it here.

This quintet has a special place in my heart because of the way the harmony came about. My youngest son Brendon and I began a game of trading chords the piano over his 2016 Christmas break from the University of Florida. One of us would find a chord on the piano that we felt was especially pregnant with possibility or


emotion and then write it down. Then, the other would find a chord that felt like its compliment and write that down. We ended the sequence when we both felt it was over. I found this collaboration delightful and profound. It reignited my love of harmony and harmony’s mysterious power over me, the reason I wanted to be a composer in the first place. Pieces and parts of our chord sequences became the seed for this music.

1. Nostalgia

Alternative fingerings are a variety of complex, “ugly”, off-pitch or substandard sounds that the instruments are not designed to produce. They are fascinating to the intellect because they reveal the boundaries of the “correct” acoustic properties . The sounds invite the audience to widen their definition of what is “acceptable” from each instrument, and in music. My hope is to invite listeners into a wider definition of music in their lives. That these marvelous sound-making machines – the woodwinds – have within them a secret ground beyond “perfect”. And like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, these and all so-called “extended techniques”, honor imperfection as a root of beauty.

I learned a great deal about alternative fingerings for the clarinet from the website of Heather Roche  . Alternative fingerings for the flute, oboe, horn and bassoon came from,, Wendell World and Mark Charette’s Woodwind Fingering I thank them for their sharing their knowledge on the internet and recommend them to other composers.


2. Alone

features the oboe soloing over the other instruments over an extreme range of pitches. More than any other instrument, the oboe requires a narrow set of conditions for it to work because of its use of a double reed. The extreme range exacerbates. The score gives the oboe “ad lib dynamics” so that the solist can focus on tone quality of the extreme registers and long leaps. The rest of the quintet plays pianissimo and non-vibrato under the oboe. The harmony of stacked 7ths was influence by the gorgeous strings and harp opening of Igor Stravinsky’s “Orpheus” .

The oboe’s melody is a repeated diatonic scale with octave transpositions throughout. Even a scale can be beautiful in the right setting with the right artists. The harmonies restate in retrograde diminution from about the halfway point onward.


3. Great River

Here, the arpeggiation of the harmonies that Brendon and I created support a broad and powerful horn melody. The challenge of maintaining each chord’s character with only three instruments was met with the arpeggios overlapping in a delayed stretto. The bassoon provided support to both the horn melody and the higher woodwinds at different times.


4.Cats and Boots

This last movement is hip-hop and jazz influenced.  This movement asks a lot of the flutist, who switches back and forth between loud, aggressive beatboxing and normal playing. The flutist sets the tempos and feel of a deep swing at the 16th note subdivision. The beatboxing works by the flutist imitating a drum set into the flute while fingering the pitch specified: kick (bass) drum (“Boo”), snare drum (“Ca”) and closed high-hat (“ts”) of a drum set in the notation. A “Ca” (Snare) followed by a “ts” (hi-hat), then a “boo” (kick drum) followed by a “ts” (hi-hat) gave this movement its title. I learned about beat-box flute “Beatbox Flute 101 – A lesson with Greg Pattillo” from one of my students. The other musicians play rapid jazz-influenced lines throughout, both in stacks like a sax section to the same line in delayed entrances, both in swung 16ths and straight 16ths.

Score and parts are available at J.W. Pepper.

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