Millennium Dances

for Symphony Orchestra and Solo Percussion

David Ward-Steinman

Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

When Jung-Ho Pak first approached me with an offer of a commission to write a piece for the San Diego Symphony and expressed his concern that the piece be ?audience-friendly,? I was intrigued by the nature of this particular challenge, and eager to try my hand. After all, what composer wouldn?t like to have a popular, accessible piece or two in his catalog?

After some thought, I proposed a suite of postmodern dances that would draw on various world music traditions and instruments, with a nod toward American assimilation of these traditions. The first essay, a stylized tango, overshot the mark, and was withdrawn after a month?s work, perhaps to resurface later in another piece or medium. The next attempt was inspired by a recent visit to Ireland and the ?Riverdance? music, which opened my ears to the possibility of doing something serious in the Irish tradition. The result is the first of the "Millennium Dances", whose title (like all the others) involves at least a double pun.

The music of the first movement quotes wisps of Irish tunes (?Cockles and Mussels,? ?Irish Washerwoman,? ?The Kerry Dances?) that slip into jazz and out again, culminating in a free-for-all collage of tunes played simultaneously by the woodwinds at the end. Irish Tin Whistles (or Penny Whistles) are called for in the score, as well as that quintessential Irish drum, the Bodhran, played by the featured world-music percussionist John Flood, whose participation in this project quickly became indispensable.

The second movement was inspired by the gamelan music of Java and Bali, and is written mostly in Pelog mode, a five-tone scale with half-steps (E(, F, A, B(, D). Jam in Indonesian means ?time,? and many other things in English. The opening solo is played on a two-octave toy gamelan instrument (Gambang gansa) I acquired in Bali, though it is possibly of Javanese origin. No native tunes are quoted in this movement, but I have utilized certain gamelan techniques (e.g. kotekan, or interlocking parts) and a Garuda ostinato-motif from Kuta village. The orchestration calls for all the metallophones and mallet instruments available in the Western orchestra (vibraphone, orchestra bells, crotales, chimes, xylophone, marimba, cymbals and tamtam) as well as a toy piano. In the middle the percussion soloist switches from toy gamelan to vibraphone for a jazz-flavored improvisation on the themes that have emerged, and the piece begins to swing a bit as western harmonies coalesce with Balinese heterophony. The opening material returns at the end to round things off.

The third movement features African instruments and drums, and the soloist now assumes the role of Master Drummer. After a percussion ensemble introduction, the Tin Whistle returns to introduce a tune from Zambia, ?Kapusi Kali Kongo,? that is subjected to a series of variations. The overall form is a kind of African rondo, with two other tunes and drum patterns (some of which I transcribed from recordings) also quoted. But the real dialectic of the movement is the juxtaposition of American jazz drums with the African drums: the two alternate and vie for mastery, sometimes trading solo breaks. The African tunes and rhythms slip very easily into jazz without much tweaking, but I allowed them to prevail in the end, vanishing quietly back into the jungle.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Dan Diego Symphony and Jung-Ho Pak, Artistic Director
Composition Date 2001
Duration 00:18:00
Orchestration Solo Perc.; 3(dbl. Picc./ Irish Tin Whistle) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 4Perc.(opt. assorted International instr.) Pno.(dbl.Cel./Toy Pno.) Hp. Str.
Premiere May 25, 26 and 27, 2001 San Diego Symphony Orchestra Jung-Ho Pak, conductor John Flood, soloist


I. Dublin Down
II. Bali: Pelog-jam
III. Kenya Dance?
IV. Fiesta (Optional)