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Sampler Verses

Sop/fl, ss.sax, tpt, perc, pno, vln




Commissioned by the Walden School Faculty Commissioning Project

Premiered by International Contemporary Ensemble, July 10, 2015, The Walden School, Dublin, NH

Anonymous text










In what musicians would think of as the Baroque and Classical eras, girls in Europe and the Americas made embroidery samplers to show they had mastered the art of needlework. The samplers that survive offer a tantalizingly small window on the artistic skills and sensibilities of historical women whose names would otherwise be lost (including at least one, now long dead, who was also called Eliza Brown). Samplers don the mantle of “art” uneasily: they are extravagantly decorative displays of practical, domestic skill, composed of disparate elements that add up to unexpected wholes.


Sampler Verses is comprised of six micro-movements performed without pause, each of which offers its own take on a Baroque texture or form. The piece combines traditional notation with various kinds of indeterminate notation, taking cues from the semi-determinate notational practices of Baroque music. The different types of notation present in the piece require varying degrees of precision, free interpretation, and improvisation on the part of each performer.


This piece is music-theater in a subtle sense. The “characters” embodied by each instrument are highly contrasting, as are their relationships with each other. The performers are encouraged to heighten and inflect the normal interpersonal interactions of chamber music – eye contact, cuing, etc. – so that they reflect the musical characters of and interactions between their instruments.


The use of props and lighting is encouraged, and should be used to support the performers’ interpretation of their instruments’ characters and interactions with others. The score is a theatrical text to be read and interpreted, but it does not tell a specific, linear story – rather, it offers suggestions for the creation of a “sampler” of mysteriously interconnected musical-theatrical vignettes. Is the singer the creator of the sampler? Is she the voice of the sampler itself? It is up to the performers to decide.


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