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The Surface of Life

solo vibraphone with percussion & steel drum ensemble
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Composer: Mark Ford
Publisher: Innovative Percussion, Inc.
Instrumentation: vibraphone, tambourine, double second steel drums, Korean gong(or other gong or tam tam), doumbek (or darbouka or similar hand drum), cello steel drums, high and low cajons, suspended cymbal, marimba(5 octave), thin metal wind chimes, Korean gong, six inch splash cymbal set inside a small 12-14" China cymbal, sizzle cymbal, mounted headless tambourine, earth bells, xylophone, crotales, suspended almglocken, low vibra-slap, 4 tom-toms, bass drum w/ pedal, low tom, finger cymbals, splash cymbal, string bass

Program Notes:
The Surface of Life was the third prize recipient in the 2008 Percussive Arts Society Composition Contest and is dedicated to University of North Texas percussion professor Christopher Deane. Professor Deane has personally expanded the potential of the concert vibraphone though his compositions such as Mourning Dove Sonnet and The Apocryphal Still Life. He is also a wonderful tambourine player. The solo part in The Surface of Life reflects these gifts. The music combines cultural and musical aspects of the Middle East, Korea, Trinidad, Cuba and western music as the solo vibraphone part is supported by two steel drum players (double seconds and cellos), cajon, doumbek, marimba, xylophone, gongs, string bass and two percussionists. The grooves and timbres of Surface of Life create a wonderful platform to feature an advanced vibraphonist.

“The Surface of Life” is a solo vibraphone feature with six accompanying performers. The accompaniment scoring is for the following: double second pans; cello pans; low-F marimba; two percussionists who play Korean gong, finger cymbals, four tom-toms, bass drum with pedal, splash cymbals, headless tambourine (mounted), earth bells, four suspended almglocken and vibraslap; and a double bassist.

Starting with a rhapsodic opening introduction, the solo vibraphone is engaged with intriguing musical counterpoint with the two steel drum players. The four-mallet marimbist and bassist provide the harmonic underpinning for this unusual solo to transition nicely into a faster section in which the marimba and solo vibraphone present unison melodic lines that are incredibly intricate (sixteenth-note triplets and sixteenth notes). An extended vibraphone cadenza moves into a furious finish in which all the performers align in the same driving rhythm toward the delightfully satisfying final cadence.

Quartal and quintal harmonies predominate this tuneful—yet mercurial— modal-sounding composition, which finally cadences on G. This ten-minute septet harkens—in its overall musical presentation—to a percussion ensemble version of Ford’s solo work “Polaris.” However, this composition should not be compared to anything else that Ford has composed.

Dedicated to Ford’s friend and colleague at UNT, Christopher Deane, “The Surface of Life” won third place in the 2008 PAS Composition Contest. This work can be heard on a University of North Texas percussion CD titled Vespertine Formations. — Jim Lambert Percussive Notes, August/September 2009

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Mark Ford Mark Ford
University of North Texas
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