American Embers


for concert wind band


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Sonoma State Symphonic Wind Ensemble, composer conducting



SKU: American Embers Category:



for concert wind band

Commissioned by the Western/Northwestern CBDNA Divisions
Premiered on April 21, 2018
by The Sonoma State Symphonic Wind Ensemble,
Jim Stephenson Conducting

duration: 6′

piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 3 Bb clarinets, bass clarinet
2 alto saxophones, 1 tenor saxophone, 1 baritone saxophone
2 Bb trumpets, 2 french horns, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, euphonium, tuba
timpani + 6 percussion (see specifics below), piano
offstage ensemble (preferred):
piccolo, 2 oboes (opt), 3 Bb clarinets, bassoon, 2 alto saxophones, triangle, upright piano

percussion needed:
Mallets (2 players): marimba, orch. bells, chimes, xylophone, crotales, + snare drum
(Vibes in Perc. 2)
perc. 1: sand blocks, triangle, snare drum (not shared w/ mallets)
perc. 2: tamtam (bowed and rolled), small block of wood – played with quarters, cymb. a2, vibes
perc. 3: bass drum (shared w/ perc. 4), sus. cymb., small tamtam (offstage triangle cued in this part)
perc. 4: bass drum (shared w/ perc. 3)

Program notes – from the composer:

One thing that always informs my work (probably true for most artists) is the current environment or circumstances in which I live. I want to make my work both relevant and long-lasting, at the same time. At the time of this collaboration, I also felt a need to compose slow music, and to focus on melody. It is all of these factors that led to “American Embers”.
In the fall of 2017, I was very much struck by the images of the terrible fires that had destroyed so many homes in the Santa Rosa, CA area. I could only imagine what it must have been like to walk among the ruins, thinking not necessarily of the material things, but of all the memories that literally went up in smoke, or were reduced to ashes.
This got me to thinking of my own childhood, when I, my mother, and my siblings, would sit in the living room, while my father would play his favorite show tunes on the piano. Many times – because I was too young – he would invite me over to play a one-finger melody, while he supplied the accompaniment. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to think of this house – full of so many memories – reduced to nothing but a chimney tower.
Given my now “mid-life age”, it’s hard not to get overly sentimental or nostalgic about that time that coincided with my childhood, when America seemed simpler, when communities and families seemed so much more attached to one another. I know this probably happens every generation – it just so happens that now it’s my turn.
And so “American Embers” is a distinctly American tune, that grows and then becomes intimate – that gets lush and romantic, or just remains simple, much like memories often do. The offstage music that interrupts the tune near the end are direct quotes from what I recall of my father’s playing. One might imagine strolling through the streets after the fires, imagining the faint sounds of music hearkening forth from the now-gone living rooms.
Throughout the work is the percussion imitation of an old-fashioned, scratchy record player (again, this is my generation). It accompanies most of the piece, but at the end, suffers the ever-present reality of the skipping record. This is not just for effect: it is a reminder that the mistakes and difficulties of every generation seem endlessly destined to repeat themselves, and make us all just long that much more for the innocent childhood we once enjoyed.

I am delighted to have been contacted by Thomas Rohrer, and asked by the W/NW division of CBDNA to compose this work for their 2018 conference. My sincerest appreciation goes out to all those who co-commissioned the work (listed here) for their continued support of us living composers in the creation of new music.

~ Jim Stephenson; January, 2018

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