SOLO

Work in Progress
For piano

Program Notes

Work in Progress | Program Notes

My current project is a solo piano work that draws inspiration from a passage in Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel L’enfant de sable (Harcourt, 1985). Set in early 20th-century Morocco, L’enfant de sable relates the life of Ahmed. Though born a female, Ahmed is raised as a male by his father.

One day, like many boys his age, Ahmed accompanies his mother for the first time to the local hammam, a traditional bathhouse and one of the few spaces where Moroccan women of the time could converse freely about matters such as sex and their marital relationships. To Ahmed’s young ears, however, the meaning of these conversations is less interesting than the mysterious and quasi-magical ambiance of the hammam.

He observes that the women’s words seem to collect together and rise through the bathhouse steam like “fistfuls of cloud.” Echoing, mingling, and merging as they ascend, the words eventually evaporate upon reaching the stone ceiling. The “droplets” of words that fall down to Ahmed spark his curiosity, and he amuses himself by “juggling them” in his mind to create his own conversations.

My piece is modeled on Ahmed’s imaginative observations.


Four Miniatures for Alto Saxophone (2016)
10 minutes
Premiere: Katherine von Bernthal, Ann Arbor, MI, 10 April 2016


Losing Loss (2015)
For piano
5 minutes
Premiere: Sonya Belaya, Birmingham, MI, 6 February 2017

Program Notes

Losing Loss | Program Notes

Losing Loss (2015) explores the in-between stages of grieving, a process that I believe is inconclusive and elusive. Specifically, I hope to evoke the array of emotions that the griever experiences: disorientation, anger, exhaustion, and the fragile hope of memorializing those we lose while releasing the pain of loss.

This piece is dedicated to my friend, pianist Sonya Belaya, whose mother went missing in 2014.


CHAMBER

Garlic (2017)
For saxophone quartet & drum set
5 minutes

Program Notes

Garlic | Program Notes

For this title, I thank the drummer who co-premiered this piece, David Alvarez III. After laying down a particularly groovy groove in rehearsal – masterfully embellishing the notated part that I had composed for him – he commented, “I added some garlic.”

Garlic is pungent and delicious. When added to countless mixtures of ingredients, it inevitably brings the funk to your taste buds. Garlic pays homage to many of the non-classical musical traditions that I love, including funk and jazz, especially Duke Ellington’s lush harmonies and driving rhythmic energy that never fail to leave me feeling warm inside. The theme and opening section feature pitches derived from a Carnatic (South Indian) raga that was introduced to me during my musical studies in Mysore; it is similar to the Blues scale.


String Trio No. 1 (2017)
For violin, viola, and cello
5 minutes
Premiere: Cassidy Chey Goldblatt (violin), Ryan McDonald (viola), and Hanna Rumora (cello), Ann Arbor, MI, 15 March 2017

Program Notes

String Trio No.1 | Program Notes

In the summer of 2016, I studied classical Arabic music under Mohamed El Harzli at the Conservatoire d’Art et de Musique in Tangier, Morocco. My studies were largely motivated by my fascination with quarter-tones, melodic intervals that are absent from the Western tuning system but integral to Arabic music. To unfamiliar ears, these intervals may initially sound odd. I find, however, that they carry a unique expressive power – a way of tugging at your heartstrings – that I have never heard or felt before. The melodies throughout the middle section of this piece feature quarter-tones of the rast, bayati, and saba tetrachords. The middle section also draws inspiration from the pensive, rhythmically free quality of taqasim improvisations; the call-and-response musical dialogue heard in firqa (Arabic orchestra) overtures; and the dance-like energy of Moroccan chaâbi folk music

I would like to thank Mohamed El Harzli for his kind mentorship and the University of Michigan Islamic Studies and Honors Programs for their generous support of my studies in Morocco.


Duet for Cello and Harpsichord (2016)
3 minutes
Premiere: Julia Knowles (cello) & Phoebe Wu (piano), Ann Arbor, MI, 15 March 2016

Program Notes

Duet for Cello and Harpsichord | Program Notes

Duet for Cello and Harpsichord (2016) draws partial inspiration from Afro-Cuban batá drumming, which I studied under Octavio Rodríguez Rivera in Havana in the summer of 2015. Throughout the piece, the cello and harpsichord – and often the harpsichordist’s own two hands – engage one another in syncopated conversations. New sections and musical ideas are introduced by short rhythmic figures akin to llamadas, the calls (or cues) that batá drummers use to signal musical changes. The closing section draws inspiration from batá compositions dedicated to Yemayá (Yoruba goddess of the sea), which start slow and gradually increase in tempo to reach a crazed ending, evoking the waters that Yemayá makes calm or violent at will.


Duet for Body Percussion (2015)
4 minutes
Premiere: Adam Lion and Jacob Gutierrez, Princeton, NJ, 27 July 2015

Program Notes

Duet for Body Percussion | Program Notes

Duet for Body Percussion (2015), which features an original notational system, was premiered at the 2015 Sō Percussion Summer Institute. Asked to compose a work that could be performed in the close quarters of a coffee shop, I decided that there was no instrumentation more portable than body percussion. I hope that this work invites listeners to recognize the intrinsic musicality that we all share.

Stylistically, this piece draws partial inspiration from classical Indian percussion music, which I experienced when studying Carnatic (South Indian) music in Mysore under Rajalakshmi Kamala in the summer of 2013. Specifically, this piece features thrice repeated cadential rhythmic patterns (tihai) and syncopated rhythmic dialogues, typical of North Indian tabla and South Indian mridangam drumming. The tabla and mridangam are renowned for their ability to produce multiple pitches and timbres, and I hope to evoke this array of sounds through snapping, different kinds of clapping, thigh and chest pats, and stomping.


Percussion Quartet No. 1 (2015)
For marimba, vibraphone, drum set, & tin and glass
6 minutes
Premiere (reading): Sō Percussion, Princeton, NJ, 31 July 2015


Losing Loss (2015)
For piano & drum set
5 minutes
Premiere: Sonya Belaya (piano) & Julian Bridges (drum set), Ann Arbor, MI, 26 February 2015

Program Notes

Losing Loss | Program Notes

Losing Loss (2015) explores the in-between stages of grieving, a process that I believe is inconclusive and elusive. Specifically, I hope to evoke the array of emotions that the griever experiences: disorientation, anger, exhaustion, and the fragile hope of memorializing those we lose while releasing the pain of loss.

This piece is dedicated to my friend, pianist Sonya Belaya, whose mother went missing in 2014.


Ton Soir Mon Soir (2014)
For baritone voice, harp, & marimba
6 minutes
Text: Excerpts of “Ton soir mon soir” (Lettres d’Hivernage, 1972) and “Blues” (Poèmes perdus) by L.S. Senghor
Premiere: Jean Bernard Cerin (baritone), Catherine Miller (harp), & Nicole Patrick (marimba), Ann Arbor, 19 March 2014

Program Notes

Ton Soir Mon Soir | Program Notes

In Ton Soir Mon Soir (2014), I set to music excerpts of two texts by the Francophone Senegalese poet, scholar, and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor, whose work I first encountered during my undergraduate comparative literature studies at the University of Michigan. In my setting of “Ton Soir Mon Soir” (Lettres d’Hivernage, 1972), I aim to evoke the poem’s intimate and dreamy character and entertain the delirious soul to which the poem’s narrator alludes. In “Blues” (Poèmes perdus), I hope to respond to the narrator’s call upon his soul to “drop anchor.”

Stylistically, I draw inspiration from the sound worlds of French impressionist and Mandinka music. Specifically, I hope to evoke the cascading melodic phrases and syncopated grooves typical of kora and balafon music. These two instruments, distant relatives of the harp and marimba, respectively, also inspire the piece’s instrumentation.


LARGE ENSEMBLE

Pirogue (2017)
For orchestra (2222 – 423 – timp. – 3 perc. – hp. – str.)
6 minutes
Premiere: University Symphony Orchestra (dir. Diego Piedra), Ann Arbor, MI, 6 February 2017

Program Notes

Pirogue | Program Notes

Pirogue (2017) is loosely inspired by Senegalese director Moussa Touré’s film La pirogue (2013), which relates the tumultuous journey of a group of West African migrants who embark on a small dugout fishing boat for Spain, where they hope to find a better life.

Throughout their journey, the migrants experience a mélange of hope, excitement, bittersweet nostalgia for their homeland, angst, delirium, and fear. At sea, they find themselves caught in a violent storm that destroys their pirogue’s engine and strands them off the Canary Islands. Eventually, a patrolling helicopter of the Spanish Red Cross rescues them. Their joy dissipates, however, when Spanish authorities hand them a fistful of Euros, a sandwich, and deport them back to their homelands. They are left suspended in disbelief.

Like all artists, I prize freedom of expression, and I have advocated for migrant communities, whose capacity for self-expression is limited by linguistic and socioeconomic factors. As a volunteer French-English translator at the NYU/Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture (2014), I facilitated French-Speaking African clients’ access to social services and medical care. As a volunteer at Freedom House Detroit (2016), I led weekly beginner-level English coaching sessions for asylum seekers.

In all of my interactions with migrants, I have been deeply moved by their optimism and resilience. This piece is a tribute to their fortitude.


Movement (2012)
For orchestra (2222 – 2221 – timp. – 1 perc. – hp. – pn. – str.)
4 minutes
Premiere: New York Philharmonic Orchestra (dir. Joshua Weilerstein), New York City, 24 May 2012
 


maggie and milly and molly and may (2012)
For SATB choir
3 minutes
Text: “maggie and milly and molly and may” (Dedication, 1958) by E. E. Cummings
Premiere: European American Musical Alliance Chorale, Paris, 27 July 2012