Grade level: 5
Premiere info: Minnesota Symphonic Winds, Timothy Mahr, conductor
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The Arabic word Salaam, like its Hebrew equivalent Shalom, is packed with meaning. One of the most common uses of the word in Islamic culture is as a peaceful and respectful greeting between two people. With this piece, I extend a greeting of utmost respect and admiration towards the musical and cultural tradition of the Middle East. In a time when we too often suffer the consequences of cultural tension and misunderstanding, music offers us a window into other ways of life - other ways of expressing life.
The initial inspiration for the writing of Salaam came at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Minneapolis, MN in 2005. As part of the opening ceremony, a Muslim cleric ascended to the podium and delivered an incredibly moving rendition of the Call to Prayer, the Adhan. The beautifully ornamented phrases immediately sparked my compositional instinct and imagination. After I researched as much Middle Eastern music as I could at the St. Olaf College music library, I felt compelled to express my reaction to this music and this culture through the concert band medium.
At first glance, one might think that Middle Eastern music and a concert band would not mix so well together. However, as many modern composers are discovering, the wind and percussion colors in the concert band are capable of a truly expansive sonic and emotional palette. The pairing actually proved to be quite fitting.
The opening material of Salaam is the Adhan, the Call to Prayer. The role of the muezzin (the prayer caller) is taken by the solo trombone. The power of the high tenor range and the fluid ornamental abilities of the slide effectively emulate the vocal quality of the muezzin. Next, we hear a song called Sweheri from the nomadic Bedouins of Iraq. This particular song is a shepherd song that is performed by a solo male singer and accompanied by a folk bagpipe called the matbudj. A combination of strident upper woodwinds represents the nasal matbudj while a solo euphonium represents the vocalist.
The percussion then leads the band into a Turkish dance in 5/8 meter. The dance is vibrant and lively, colored by tambourine, castanets, and jubilant woodwind and brass flourishes. After the energy of the dance dissipates, the tam-tam and hand drums begin a rhythmic pattern that emulates the sound and style of copper plate percussion from the country of Yemen. As this trance-like music continues, the winds emerge from nothing, build in intensity, and culminate in a dramatic climax in which the Call to Prayer is heard once more, this time with great strength and power. Finally, the music peacefully recedes into its final cadence, into the desert sands, with a faint memory of the Shepherd's song.
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