Thursday, November 24, 2011

'Take A Chance' is a Recorded Work of Hale Smith, Who Passed Away Nov. 24, 2009

[Hale Smith; Out of the Depths: Music by African-American Composers; Keystone Wind Ensemble; Jack Stamp, Conductor; Citadel 88143 (2002)]

Today, Nov. 24, 2011, is the second anniversary of the passing of the innovative composer Hale Smith (1925-2009), who is featured at, which presents his complete Works List as compiled by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, Hale Smith contributed richly to both Jazz and Classical Music. This seems an appropriate occasion to discuss Take A Chance (10:54), the composition of Hale Smith on the recording Out of the Depths: Music by African-American Composers. Dr. Myron Moss writes the liner notes:

“Hale Smith's music puts a less-expressionist, more human face on atonal composition. Born in Cleveland in 1925, he earned Bachelor's and Master's degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He had a single composition teacher, Marcel Dick, whom he credits with evoking the individuality of his students (including Gardner Read and Donald Erb), while conveying the range of twelve-tone and atonal approaches to composition. Smith has focused on songs and choral pieces from early in his career, including the widely-praised In Memoriam Beryl Rubinstein (1953). His orchestral pieces Contours, Ritual and Incantations, and Innerflexions have all been recorded.

“Smith began writing band music while working as an editor at Frank Music for Arnold Broido. In the early 1960s Broido wanted to start a series bringing contemporary compositional techniques to school-music compositions. This 'Adventures in Form' series ultimately included Vaclav Nelhybel's Prelude and Fugue and Don Gillis' Instant Music. Broido had Smith start the series with Somersault, a twelve-tone piece, and Take A Chance, a piece with aleatoric elements. Take A Chance consists of five long statements ('variations') all based on the same warm-sounding but atonal harmonic structure. Variation I may be taken as the initial theme, Smith calls it 'a passionate song.' Variation II is a light-hearted march. Variations III and IV allow individual improvisation on prescribed notes; improvisation is especially necessary in Variation IV, where it provides the only melody. Smith's notes on the score also propose that the performing ensemble combine any two variations simultaneously, and experiment with varying the instrumentation within variations. In the performance recorded here, conductor/composer Jack Stamp has responded to Smith's invitation. His scheme for this performance consists of Variation I, Variation V, Variation II, Variations I and II together, the Variation IV (featuring improvising soloists on flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet), and finally the combination of Variations I and V. (These segments sometimes follow each other without pause. It may assist listeners in keeping track of the form to know that each segment is about 1:50 long.) What is recorded here is but one realization of a work that reflects not only high craftmanship with atonal materials, but also high confidence, characteristic of the sixties, in the artistic capacity of our youth in public schools.

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