for: wind ensemble [4 flutes-2 oboes-8Bb, 2 bs, 1 cbs clarinets-2 bassoons; 2 alto, 2 tenor, 1 baritone saxophones; 4 horns-5 Bb trumpets-3 trombones-1 euphonium-1 tuba; 1 timpani-4 percussion]
duration: 12 minutes
premiered: by Vincent Massey Collegiate Wind Ensemble at the Rocky Mountain Band Festival, Banff, Alberta, April 20, 2008
Manitoba Arts Council Commission
Pluto’s Moons is a three-movement work for wind ensemble written with the help of students from the Vincent Massey Collegiate Wind Ensemble in Winnipeg. Students were asked to explore the mythological, astronomical and astrological properties of the three moons of the dwarf planet Pluto. These moons are called Nix, Charon and Hydra. Working through a FaceBook Group site, the students were asked to gather ideas, discuss the various properties of the moons and shape the most compelling characteristics into musical ideas. These ideas were sketched out by the composer and shaped in rehearsal meetings with the students. The project took place between November 2007 and March 2008.
The composer appreciates the support of both these parties as well as the encouragement and enthusiasm of the students of Vincent Massey Collegiate and their Director, Jacqueline Dawson.
Notes on the individual movements:
Nix was the Greek goddess of darkness and night, and the mother of Charon. A shadowy figure, Nix stood at or near the beginning of creation, and was the mother of personified gods such as Sleep and Death. She was a figure of exceptional power who appears in Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Illiad as well as the poems of Orpheus.
The movement Nix is musically very sparse and filled with extended techniques, humming voices and other unusual sonorities. The overall sense is that the music is never fully realized and remains ephemeral, mysterious and indistinct throughout. Resolution only comes at the close where Nix melts seamlessly into the next movement, Charon.
Charon is the largest moon of Pluto (or one member of a double dwarf planet—with Pluto the other member). In Greek mythology Charon is the ferryman of the dead, a figure with close ties to the God Hades. Charon’s job was to take the newly dead from one side of the river Acheron to the other (if they had the means to pay for the ride). If they couldn’t pay the toll, they were forced to wander the banks of the Acheron for 100 years. Dante describes Charon in the Divine Comedy (3rd Canto of Inferno) and there is a menacing depiction of him by Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment on the alter wall of the Sistine Chapel.
The music for Charon outlines a retrospective river journey. It could be interpreted as depicting the various stages of a person’s life—from a chorale-like opening, to a section depicting past memories, to a bizarre waltz or barcarole. Its mood changes over its brief duration suggesting the extremes people experience over the course of their lives.
Hydra is the outer-most natural satellite of Pluto. It was discovered in June 2005 by the Hubble space telescope. Hydra is also the name of the famous monster that guarded the waters of Hades’ underworld in Greco-Roman mythology. The Hydra is described as an ancient serpent-like water beast with numerous heads (usually nine) and poisonous breath. This monster is very difficult to kill because some of its heads grow back after being severed. Hydra is the most dramatic and exciting of the movements. The trick with the heads is depicted musically by a nine-note figure that gets systematically truncated. Some of these figures, however, are given the opportunity to develop musically and a sense of epic struggle ensues. Percussion is featured prominently in this movement.
Charon and Hydra are written in standard metric notation. Nix makes use of non-standard, though largely intuitive, notation that is organized into varying increments of real time. Time in seconds is marked along the top of the score in large chunks, and within the various staff systems into various increments. Larger time segments are marked by hollow triangles: shorter segments, within the larger, are marked by solid triangles. The conductor is responsible for providing all cues as needed. The hollow triangles are numbered (1 to 5; 1a to 5a; 1b to 5b, etc.). The conductor will find that using the fingers of one hand to mark these cues is the easiest way to keep track of the larger blocks of time. The individual players’ parts contain groupings of instruments which helps with cueing. The conductor is encouraged to stretch and/or compress the time increments in the piece. Unlike measured time, which is exact, perceived time is naturally very fluid and variable. Students should be made aware of this and be encouraged to experiment in the Nix movement. When the dynamics allow for it, gestures and phrases should be tapered and blended into each other. Page six of the score calls on the students to freely improvise a segment. The overall structure of this segment should be discussed by the group and carefully shaped.
Pluto’s Moons is intended to be played as a set of three movements in the order presented in the score. It is possible to play any combination of movements, or any single movement. The audience should, however, be made aware of the original configuration and be given some programmatic context. Pluto’s Moons is approximately 12 minutes in duration.