Friday, December 01, 2006

Serocki and the Beat

Performers have many options to help them interpret music... dynamics, tone color, note shape, vibrato, etc. But what about meter?

We learned to count and interpret music in which the downbeat note gets greater emphasis.

1 -2 -3 -4 - 1- 2- 3- 4

From what little I understand of music history this hasn't always been the case. I seem to remember a music history lecture in which I heard of an early composer writing the piece and then deciding on the meter. For many of this time period, the bar lines served more as place markers to keep everyone together.

Consider also many many 20th century composers who have implied different meters in their writing. Anyone wanting to argue with me had better look over the trombone part of Stravinsky's Royal March from L'Histoire du Soldat. Obviously he wants the different parts to sound like they are in different meters. I don't think you can read it any other way.

But what about the Serocki Sonatina? A lot of college trombone players are polishing up this piece in preparation for this year's Eastern Trombone Workshop solo competition. Is it possible that one might perform the piece better by sometimes counting in a different meter than the one printed?

This interpretive technique is known as derivative meter: a term coined, as far as I know, by John Swallow of New York Brass Quintet fame. I learned it while studying at Hartt from one of his students, Ron Borror. I don't use it everywhere and, over the years, have had some rather intense discussions with colleagues as to whether or not we performers are "allowed" to count in a different meter than the one printed.
The usual counter-argument goes:
"If so-and-so had wanted it in 3/8, he would have written it that way."

My answer:
"Maybe, maybe not."

(It depends on too many factors to delve into in a blog.)

Anyway, here is a link to an acrobat document I just posted on my website showing 3 examples of derivative meter applied to the Serocki Sonatina. Try it on for size and see what you think.