I had the good fortune of receiving two commissions from school orchestras last year. “A Million Miles Away” was written for the St. Cecilia Concert Orchestra with Patricia Wunder conducting. As Maestra Wunder and I began brainstorming about what type of piece might fit her group, she explained that the rest of her program would be pieces based on stories–Telemann’s Don Quixote Suite, for example.
I decided to maintain that theme, composing a programmatic piece with a yet-as-undetermined story. Here’s how I described it in the concert’s program notes:
A Million Miles Away is a phrase that dropped into my mind as I began composing this commission for St. Cecilia. It certainly describes the desolate, open harmonies that were emerging in the early stages of the first draft. Knowing that my piece would be part of a concert of compositions based on stories, “A Million Miles Away” sounded like the title of a novel or movie without providing a full story. In fact, I’d love it if you would listen to the music and create your own story based on what you hear.
The piece is arranged in three sections–stars, sea, and sand. You can almost hear the pinpricks of light appearing in a black sky as the piece opens. Then waves begin to well up and break, splashing from one side of the orchestra to the next. Finally, the sounds become bone dry and blow away into nothing. The first and last sections are “aleatoric” sections that allow the performers a certain amount of freedom. For example, play the sequence of notes, but in any rhythm you want. It was challenging for the students to have that much freedom!
The above MP3 is a mock-up of the piece I created in Logic Pro. Below is a video of the concert.