Ode to Alice
Rivers Upper School Orchestra, Weston MA
When I was asked to write a piece for the Rivers School Orchestra, I was especially inspired by two unique things about the ensemble. First, the instrumentation could be thought of as a jazz rhythm section (piano, one bass, and guitar) plus lots of high strings and winds. Secondly, there were many brave students who wanted solos! These two special qualities immediately made me think of the work of one of my favorite musicians: Alice Coltrane (1937-2007). In my favorite Alice Coltrane album, Universal Consciousness from 1971, Alice uses four violinists to create an acoustic delay effect in which the individual violinists play wild melodies a split-second ahead of or behind each other. I used this fascinating technique in the slow jam sections at the beginning and end of my piece Ode to Alice. I also channeled the spirit of the bombastic, noisy, free-jazz solos of Alice and her band members in the fast middle section of Ode to Alice. I wrote out short, energetic possible solos but gave the soloists the freedom to recompose them if they wanted to. Overall, I wanted to honor Alice, an oft-overlooked visionary, with a piece that expressed the beauty of individuality within community and celebrated her innovation within the jazz tradition. Ode to Alice embodies both personal creativity and communitarian values because the performers have some independence and individuality but they also must work together, listen to each other, and at some points play very precisely to support the soloists in a fast-changing web of musical relationships.