Perpetual Notion



For solo percussion and wind ensemble

Grade 5 for wind ensemble, Grade 6 for solo percussion

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PERPETUAL NOTION by James M. Stephenson

for solo percussion and wind ensemble

Duration: approx. 7 minutes

Premiered in February of 2020 by Von Hansen, solo percussion, and the Washburn Wind Ensemble, Thomas Sedan Director


SOLO percussion

piccolo, 2 flutes, bassoon, 3 Bb clarinets, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 4 saxophones (2 alto, tenor, baritone) 3 Bb trumpets, 4 french horns, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, euphonium, tuba
double bass, piano
timpani, 5 percussion

percussion instruments needed:
glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, wood blocks, suspended cymbal, snare drum, bass drum, tamtam, triangle, finger cymbals

Program Notes: (/pərˈpeCH(o͞o)əl/) – adjective
2. occurring repeatedly; so frequent as to seem endless and uninterrupted.

no.tion (/ˈnōSH(ə)n/) – noun
2. an impulse or desire, especially one of a whimsical kind.

“Perpetual Notion” grew out of a correspondence with Tom Seddon (Washburn University), where he asked the (dangerous) question: “Jim, do you have anything that features a solo percussionist?” My immediate answer was no, but with the help of Tom, and many generous directors and institutions (listed below), the result is now on the following pages.

The “perpetual” part of this piece is somewhat obvious: there is usually a constant stream of 16th or 8th notes, whether in the solo
or accompaniment parts.
The “notion” is a little more obscure. I’ve always wanted to write music that had 12-tone hints, but existed in a more “accessible”
format. I once heard a clip somewhere of someone suggesting that 12-tone music could be more successful (in a popular way), if
it was presented in a more rhythmically approachable style. In other words, one might try to contrast one complex aspect with another less complex technique. Given its propensity toward rhythmic devices, I surmised that a percussion feature could be the vehicle for such a piece.
I should state right away: this is not a 12-tone piece. It merely has notions of one. There are several measures (measure 2 or 23 of the cadenza for example, or for that matter, any chromatic scale), where all 12 notes are used without any repetition. The melody in measure 23 becomes an oft-used statement in the piece, but is presented in a rhythmically attractive and “groovy” way, so as to hopefully achieve the balance mentioned earlier.
Those looking for other “tricks” in this piece might note that the alto saxophone countermelody in measure 130 is the inversion of what becomes major melodic material starting in the solo marimba in measure 162. Or that the bass line is often a 12-tone subset as well. And so on…
My sincere thanks also goes out to soloist Von Hansen, who was willing to workshop this with me to come up with other options for what the solo part could include, and what it couldn’t. Or shouldn’t! Collaboration with people like Tom and Von is what makes being a composer so enjoyable, and so I thank them for their generous time and spirit.

Jim Stephenson; December 29, 2019

Commissioning members (listed alphabetically):

Baker University Bands, Kansas – Dr. Frank Perez, Director of Bands
Kansas State University Bands, Kansas – Dr. Frank Tracz, Director of Bands
Lebanon Valley College Bands, Pennsylvania – Dr. Christopher Heffner, Director of Bands
Lyme/Old Lyme High School Bands, Connecticut – Mr. Jacob Wilson, Director of Bands
Olathe East High School Bands, Kansas – Mr. Jeff Smikahl, Director of Bands
Percussionist, Illinois – Debbie Katz Knowles
Rhode Island College Bands, Rhode Island – Dr. Joseph Foley, Director of Bands
Roosevelt University, Chicago College of Performing Arts Wind Ensemble, Illinois – Prof. Stephen Squires, Director
Seamen High School Bands, Kansas – Mr. Cary Stahly, Director of Bands
Topeka High School Bands, Kansas – Mr. Eric Bradshaw, Director of Bands, Jennifer Antonetti and Sal Cruz, Assistant Directors
Topeka West High School Bands, Kansas – Mr. Barry Evans, Director of Bands, Mr. Kevin Harry, Assistant Director of Bands
Washburn University Bands, Kansas – Dr. J. Thomas Seddon IV, Director of Bands, Dr. Von Hansen, Percussion/Assistant Director of Bands Westminster High School Bands, Georgia – Scott A. Stewart, Director of Bands
Wichita State University Bands, Kansas – Dr. Timothy Shade, Director of Bands

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