Half Notes: Amped

Half Notes: Amped

The art of musical composition is a conversation between the person writing the music and the people who will be asked to play it. What makes this conversation challenging, however, is that it is carried on in the head and heart of the composer alone. As a composer develops a piece, she constantly struggles to translate the images in her heart into a language that can be understood and turned into sound by the musicians.

At least that’s the way it sounded to me as Amos Gillespie talked about how he developed “Amped” for orchestra and big band. “The biggest challenge for a composer is to stay excited and to maintain energy throughout the entire writing process, as you sit by yourself and write alone,” explained Gillespie.

This irony is even more striking when you realize that “Amped,” which premieres at CCO’s January 25 concert, will be performed by the full Chicago Composers Orchestra together with the 16-piece rock/jazz big band, Origin of Animal. That’s a lot of musicians and a lot of instruments to be alone with while composing.

What excited Gillespie as he worked on “Amped” was the opportunity to take the structurally experimental aspect of his prog-rock roots and layer that onto an orchestra that is typically associated with more staid performances. The result will feel like a series of mini jam sessions woven together by melodic themes and eclectic rhythm transitions that are meant to keep all the musicians in both orchestra and rock/jazz band constantly on their toes. Wild enough to make the jazz band side of the aisle happy, yet structured enough to bring out the best that the orchestra has to offer.

I asked Amos if he thinks it will work. His response helped me understand that the conversation between him and the musicians that began during the composition process, is not complete until the musicians have had their say. “I like the piece,” he said. “I’m proud of it. Now I can only hope that the orchestra and band also like it, and will it to work.”

At the end of our conversation, I asked Amos if he had any advice for Allen Tinkham, conductor of the CCO. “Good luck with the rhythm changes!” was all he said.

Forewarned is forearmed, Mr. Tinkham.

– Dan Lory


Hear Amped at CCO’s Jan 25 concert at Ganz Hall: MORE INFO AND TICKETS


About Half-Notes:

By popular demand, once again we are offering our series called Half-Notes. Half-Notes are reflections by Dan Lory, CCO’s non-expert in residence, on each of the compositions performed in our concert.

Dan Lory calls himself a music lover who is unencumbered by knowledge of music theory. Enjoy Dan’s take on each piece that will be performed at CCO’s January 25 concert. We think these reflections will help all listeners—from music experts to the theory-unencumbered among us—enjoy the concert more fully.