Half Notes: Volition

Half Notes: Volition

How is it that two children born of the same parents, and living for the first several decades of their lives in the very same environment, can develop in quite different directions, can interpret their world—and their place in that world—in remarkably different ways?

In the early stages of composing Volition for CCO’s January 25 chaos|composed concert, as David Keller and his visual artist collaborator, Alexandra Antoine, settled on the theme of evolution for their work, Keller knew he wanted to create something that explored the mystery of evolution from the perspective of his own experience growing up with his brother.

To be clear, this is not evolution in the Darwinian sense of natural selection. Neither David nor his brother has driven the other to extinction. They coexist happily to this day, and even play together in the same band.

We’re talking about evolution in the sense of individuation—growing into one’s self. Evolving into an individual. Friends tell David that they are amazed at how different he and his brother are from each other. David, for his part, sees more similarity than difference between himself and his sibling.

With Volition, David asks us to be the judge. At the start of his piece, we will see two bands together on the same stage—an orchestra and a rock/jazz big band. All musicians will be seated under the same lights, enjoying the same acoustics, and with instruments that are, for the most part, the same. Orchestra and rock band—two children of the same parents.

When conductor Allen Tinkham raises his baton, he will point first to the rock/jazz band’s side of the stage. In doing so, if he is betraying a parental preference for one child over the other, we’ll pretend not to notice. What we will notice is that from the very beginning the pace will be quick, the volume loud, the mood aggressive. The intensity will continue right up to the last note of the first movement.

When the rock/jazz band members put down their instruments, and the orchestra musicians pick up theirs for the second movement, we will feel immediately a change in mood. The pace will be more relaxed, the tone subdued, almost tranquil. It will start slowly, build in tempo, and then slow down again toward the end, as you might expect in a “typical” classical composition.

The difference between movement one and movement two will feel like night and day. But if we give it time, and listen carefully, we will hear that the orchestra, in its own way, is in fact building on the same material that fed the band in movement one.

In the final movement, when both sides of the stage join in, it won’t take more than a few measures before the orchestra and the rock/jazz band find their underlying common ground. Neither side will dilute its own personality for the sake of unity. Rather, in their time together they will demonstrate that not only are they more similar than they first appear, but the differences that do exist serve to enhance each other and lead to a new generation of sound.

Volition will not answer the question of how two siblings evolve into different individuals, but it will help us experience the beauty that is created when they at first diverge, and then merge.

When I spoke with David Keller about Volition, he divulged which of the first two movements was meant to represent him and which his brother. I have chosen to ignore him. After all, aren’t we often the worst judges of how we are perceived by others? I trust that David will leave it to us listeners to decide which movement is he. We may surprise him and choose the third!

– Dan Lory


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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.