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MY NEW T-SHIRT reads “These are difficult times.” But before we yell “Right On!” or get all Trumpery about it, the T-shirt is referring to musical signatures.
Though I love music of all sorts, I confess to being musically illiterate. I know the location of notes on a scale has something to do with pitch. And, largely through auditory trial and error, I vaguely understand the concept of time signatures: The fraction a/b implies “a” beats to a measure; the “bth note” gets one beat. Thus, probing the depths of my ken, waltzes are in 3/4 time; marches in 4/4.
Thanks to The Dave Brubeck Quartet, in 1959 I learned a lot about odd times.
The Brubeck album Time Out features the well known “Take Five,” written in a jagged but jazzy 5/4 time. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” is in 9/8. “Everybody’s Jumping” and “Pick Up Sticks” are, mostly, in 6/4. “Strange Meadow Lark” is traditional 4/4 after a gently meandering piano solo of no particular time signature. “Kathy’s Waltz” starts in 4/4, but introduces double-waltz time, then combines the two. My favorite, “Three to Get Ready,” begins as a waltz and then alternates between this 3/4 and 4/4. All in good, if difficult, times.
The full album can be heard at several YouTube locales, including this one. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” opens the album. “Three to Get Ready” is at 19:44.
Odd Times, Classical and Otherwise are cataloged by Wikipedia. For example, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, No. 26, has 18/16 for one hand played against 3/4 in the other. Then it exchanges hands at intervals until the last five bars with both at 18/16.
The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” has a particularly intricate 29-beat pattern repeated in its main verse, two 7/4 measures, a single bar of 8/4, followed by one bar at 7/4. Verification: (2 x 7) + 8 + 7 = 29.
Derek Bourgeois’ Serenade is my all-time favorite piece of difficult times. Bourgeois (who pronounced his name Brit-fashion “Burgess”) wrote many pieces for brass and wind ensembles. These include Serenade, 1965; another one titled Blitz, 1981, and a third called Metro Gnome, 1999.
In a 2009 4barsrest.com interview, Bourgeois said “Why does nobody play Metro Gnome? I think it’s a much better piece than Serenade.”
Metro Gnome, pun intended, is certainly jaunty, however my affection for Serenade is its charming 11/8, then 13/8, then back to 11/8.
Bourgeous wrote Serenade as an organ recessional for his own wedding, purposely set as a challenge for an orderly exit.
Serenade certainly gets me through difficult times; and thanks, Karen, this T-shirt is the timeliest of all. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018