Commissioned by the Tennessee Tech University Percussion Ensemble, Eric Willie, director
Premiere performance on April 15, 2012 at TTU
Moonrise is about the moments when everything changes, when something we’ve seen as ordinary suddenly becomes inspirational, when something we’ve thought was average suddenly becomes amazing, when we can see, and hear, what we have always missed before. Moonrise is dedicated to the memory of my grandparents, Carl and Gertrude Thomas.
The piece is in two movements, performed without a pause. The first is entitled The Moon Holds My Heart, and the second, which is in many ways a reflection of the first, is called The First Time I Saw the Moon.
I. The Moon Holds My Heart
Not long after my grandparents were married, they had their picture made at the county fair as they sat next to each other on a crescent moon. Pictures like these were common at the time and thousands of these “paper moon” photos can still be found in old family albums. Unfortunately, the photo was damaged over time and many details, including my grandparents’ faces, were faded or worn away.
The last time I saw my grandmother, she was too weak to get out of bed, but was still in good spirits. We spent those days looking at a lot of old pictures while she told me stories about my family. We came across one picture of my grandparents that I had never seen before. It was taken in 1938 just after they had decided to get married. My grandfather and grandmother are in front of her family home. She is standing on a piece of broken farm equipment so that she can reach up and put her arms around him. The photo is small, only a couple of inches across, but the excitement of young love jumps out of it.
When we had finished looking at the pictures, my grandfather sat down beside the bed, took my grandmother’s hand, and they talked about how they had known each other since they were barely teenagers. Time and illness had clouded many memories, but I could tell that the love they had for each other over seventy years ago was still there, and its power was overwhelming. I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. And, for just a moment, as they looked at each other, I saw their faces exactly as they must have looked the day they sat together on the paper moon. The power of love is transformational. It can change the way we see the world, and the way the world sees us. That day, for the first time, I saw them not as my grandparents, but as two kids who were so in love that they couldn’t imagine a future without each other.
The main theme of The Moon Holds My Heart is built on my grandparents’ names, Gertrude and Carl. I added my grandfather’s last initial to complete his motive.
G E R T R U D E = G E Re Ti Re Ut D E = G E D B D C D E
C A R L T = C A Re La Ti = C A D A B
with my grandparents in Suwanee, GA, at the house where I grew up.
II. The First Time I Saw the Moon
The First Time I Saw the Moon takes its inspiration from two moments in my life. It is an attempt to capture the feeling of overwhelming emotion and inspiration that floods over us when we see, or feel, something that changes us forever.
When I was young, I attended a performance of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. As I watched from the second row, Robert Shaw took the podium and gave the downbeat. As the opening theme began, I remember the feeling of being enveloped by the sound of the orchestra and by the unbelievable beauty of the music. I heard music differently than I had ever heard it before. I remember that moment (and that opening theme) almost every day, and I can see Robert Shaw giving the downbeat as if I’m still sitting in the second row.
Last summer I travelled to Beverly, Massachusetts to meet my niece Adalyn for the first time. One night we walked down to the shore of the harbor to watch the moon rise. As we looked out across the dark ocean, the moon appeared over the horizon and then rose faster than seemed possible. As the moon floated above the dark water, everything began to glow in its light. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the moon, but it felt like it.
The First Time I Saw the Moon is a musical representation of the full moon rising above the ocean and it’s reflections on the water. It also reflects the first movement with its rising scalar passages, groupings of five note ideas, and the distorted appearances of the opening bass line. Beginning from stillness (represented by ringing vibraphones), a five note pattern emerges, depicting the moon rising above the ocean. As the moon floats higher above the water, the pattern transforms. A lullaby that I wrote for Adalyn is heard briefly and then becomes a swirling ostinato. The falling thirds in the vibraphones begin to be reflected and transformed as flashes of Brahms appear.
The piece closes as the themes dissipate into rising scalar passages while faint hints of The Moon Holds My Heart emerge and then quickly fade away. Although inspired by two moments from my life, I hope the piece reflects the feeling of all the moments where inspiration and excitement make the world around us seem magical, off-kilter, and overwhelming.
– Blake Tyson, March 2012