Three Easy Pieces

Three Easy Pieces

These little pieces are part of a series I plan to keep up for a while, pieces intended for people with limited keyboard skills. When I heard my arrangements for piano four-hands of the Merengue for Orchestra and Danza Lenta, I was so taken by the camaraderie of the performers and the fun they were having playing the music that I wanted to write something that I could play on piano four-hands, too. Now, I’m a pretty good musician but I have limited keyboard skills, so I had to write something that wouldn’t require a lot of technique as a pianist. I did want to write fun and interesting music, though, so the pieces do require some musicianship skills, mainly in counting and handling syncopation. So far I’ve completed three pieces and I’d like to have 5 or 6 when it’s all done.

The Salsa in E-F (sum 9) is a tribute to Béla Bartók and also to Bartók scholar Elliott Antokoletz, who was one of my mentors in Austin when I was working on my Ph.D. (what follows is a bit technical and contains jargon that might be annoying to those who aren’t familiar with it. Feel free to stop reading here…) Much of Bartók’s music is based not on the traditional tonal system, but on an analogous system based on axes of symmetry and symmetrical four-note pitch collections—there are x-cells (all half-steps), y-cells (whole-tones), and z-cells (two perfect fourths a half-step apart). In the Salsa in E-F, I use the “sum 9” axis of symmetry (that is, the imaginary place located precisely between the pitches E and F, which are pitches 4 and 5 in the fixed-integer system—the axis is the sum of these two pitches, 9). The Secondo part plays a sum 9 z-cell (B–E–F–B♭) for nearly the entire piece, cast in a groovy pattern with a salsa bass line. The Primo part features x-cells that revolve around the sum 9 axis and also the same sum 9 z-cell the Secondo part has.

The Whole-Tone Son is a slow-tempo piece based loosely on rhythms of the Cuban son and employing segments of the whole-tone scale liberally.

Fancy Chromatic Fanatic is a REALLY fun, high-speed thriller (!) that can actually be played “piano four-fingers” if each pianist only uses index fingers, as Sam and I did at the premiere. The audience really got a kick out of this.