• Morning Dance17:47

frank stemper

Concerto for organ and chamber orchestra, [17 min.]


MORNING DANCEwas commissioned by Ministerului Culturii din Romania (the “new” Romanian government) in the Fall of 1992, and premiered by organist Robert Roubos with Edwin London directing the George Enescu Philharmonia on "American Music Day" during the SAPTAMINA INTERNATIONALA A MUZICII NOI festival in Bucharest, Romania.

This big piece was written toward the end of my schizophasia/mono-form stage!  Huh?  Really, that’s how I probably explained it back then. The schizophasia part was the “wandering mind” surface level thematic unfolding.  It resembled the way I felt my mind works.  I don’t really have ADD, but I am certainly not a linear thinker.  My thoughts bounce around, back and forth among many thoughts, and that seems orderly to me.
The mono-form was my desire to toy with the absence of formal divisions, i.e. just one big section – the entire piece.  When I was living in England, I wondered what would happen if a piece of music never made it to the “B” section.  Of course one answer to that was that the music, without thematic contrast, is boring.  I wondered, back then, whether or not it was even possible to achieve it — I mean achieve it and still create something that made sense to me esthetically.  After I felt that I did, in works such as my 1st Piano Sonata, Trylongenesis, and especially my 1982 String Quartet, I realized that I hadn’t actually accomplished composing a piece of music that had no contrasting ideas.  In fact they each have several.  But they do not comprise exclusive, separate, individual formal sections.  I had accomplished a mon-form, that was made up of many thematic ideas SIMULTANEOUSLY.  So the contrasting ideas were there, they were simply all mixed or blended together within a single section.  It was as if I had written a formally traditional piece, with linear thematic ideas, but I dumped it into a blender — and then laid out all the parts.  This is related to Moment Form of the 19th century French poets, and of course Debussy, Messaien, and perhaps Boulez.

The conductor was legend Edwin London, who promoted, performed, conducted, and even composed modern music through a very impressive career.  Somehow, I got this gig to write the piece and then attended the big international festival in Bucharest to be on hand for the premiere.  In addition to London, there were a few other new music “big shots” on hand.  They all also been commissioned to write pieces for this big festival.  Unfortunately, they were too busy schmoozing and trying to impress each other, rather than take any interest in me – a big, athletic, smiling composer from an inferior university at the forgotten bottom of the state of Illinois.  I was young and certainly not in their circle of pomp and circumstance.  Yeah, they were somewhat rude to me.  But Maestro London conducted my piece, and didn’t screw it up too much.   The day before the performance, he had asked me if the organist could play the solo part on a piano instead of the big pipe organ.  It wasn’t a musical suggestion.  The huge blustery sound of the organ pipes were reeking havoc with his hearing aides, and, not really caring about my intentions, was trying to make his job of holding my esoteric music together a little easier for himself.

As I listened to the premiere from the audience, which pitted my friend Bob Roubos (who was responsible for getting me this gig and thus
MORNING DANCE) against London and his cronies and sycophants, I felt out of place – like I usually did in classical music settings.  (I was not only a regular guy, as far from pompous as one could get, I was also a jazz musician at heart.  That I had directed and dedicated my professional life to what I thought of as really cool jazz, was wonderful, but my attitude and un-pretentious behavior around the elite musical dilettantes just didn’t sync with them.)  I did my usual thing during premieres of my music, zeroing in on the mistakes rather than the overall presentation — missing the “forest” for these few spindly trees.  Mistakes always occur during 1st performances.  As usual, by the time of the applause I presumed that everyone in the hall heard those tiny mistakes, and were scowling and denigrating at me.  And then for the next several years, until practically now, my recollection of my music, MORNING DANCE, was of an awful failure.

 Not having the original program notes, I am forced now, 25 years later, to listen and try to remember what I was thinking, even though I am certain that the piece was a failure.  No wonder this was the only performance.  (After the premiere, while trying to talk to London about it, I asked him if he’d be interested in performing the piece with his Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, but he barely gave me the time of day, and was really put off that I’d even suggest such a thing (the peon asking the king for some bread).  As I recall, he was more interested in blaming the little mistakes that had occurred on the organist, even though I was certain they were entirely his fault, his failing ears and especially for not preparing properly for this upstart Stemper fellow’s music.

 So I listened.  What a cool piece.  It is schizo-phazia — exactly what I was trying to do — moving this way and that, constantly, always moving someplace else yet never getting there, jilting around ideas that seemed to have been influenced by Roger Sessions and Olivier Messiaen, as well as some jazz piano noodling, which is always there in my music.Mono-form; bits and pieces of the organ cadenza permeate the entire piece, here and there, never really taking ce  nter stage (except maybe around 14:00).  An entire 17-plus minutes of relentlessly moving forward yet failing to arrive anywhere.  I love it.  As a matter of fact I love all of my music.  Isn’t that the goal of an……..artist – yeah, an artist?  I do have a pipeline to my muse, and this music is, as all of my modern work is, just JAZZ, but it’s MY JAZZ.

The title of this piece is a little inside joke that I have with myself, but also with my wife, the famous culinary master-chef, Nancy Jefferson.  Throughout our marriage, we have danced cheek to cheek in our kitchen, usually without music.  But whenever we’ve been in situations, marriages, parties, etc. that actually have dancing, I go into my “musical genius” act.  While she dances in normal metered time, I lead her in a syncopated counter-meter to the actual music.  Alcohol is usually involved, but she complains and gets annoyed.  “Why do you always do this, damnit.”
The joke is that I have always been an early morning composer.  Seven mornings a week, while the world sleeps, I am making noise at my piano, singing outrageously, notating, editing, and…sometimes — dancing to the peculiar-to-the-norm music I am trying to percolate with my coffee. 
Morning Dance

16 May 2018