97. Interviews – Composer Todd Gabriel on his “Dancing Inside My Head”
Monday, I posted the first of two composer interviews related to this year’s Sugarmill Music Festival. Here is the second with Todd Gabriel, a violist and composer based in Shreveport. His brand new piece, Dancing Inside My Head, can be heard this Saturday, May 19 in a performance by the Piercing Moon Trio of Natchitoches. Piercing Moon consists of oboist Leah Forsyth, violist Sofiko Tchetchelashvili, and pianist Chialing Hsieh. Saturday they also perform works by Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935) and August Klughardt (1847-1902). Full program notes can be found here. Their concert begins at 5:00 PM. Hope you will join us!
What was your inspiration for Dancing Inside My Head? What is the significance of its title? I wrote my Trio for Oboe, Viola, and Piano, Dancing Inside My Head, Op. 45 (2018) as a tribute to the jazz singer, Al Jarreau, “the Acrobat of Scat.” He died in February 2017 at the age of 76. This seven time Grammy Award winner was my father’s jazz band assistant at Ripon College (Wisconsin) in the early 1960s. He loved my father, and I have always been a fan.
How does this title relate to the music? Are there any specific motives or musical ideas our audience should be listening for? Dancing Inside My Head is based on Jarreau’s big dance hit, “Roof Garden.” First stated in the piano, the words to the catchy two-phrase tune that make up most of the song are “Does anyone want to go waltzing in the garden? Does anyone want to go dance up on the roof?” Constructed in a classical compositional fashion (variations, inversions, a mini-fugue), my work is essentially a kind of dance inspired by a song about how people should dance more. The motive “Does anyone?” is prevalent.
How have your personal experiences, for example, your career as a violist, influenced this composition? Having a Jazzer dad, a Bach and Scarlatti-loving pianist mother, and a Rockstar for a son, these influences “dance inside my head” along with the music of a long orchestral career as a violist, and fifteen years as a professor. What comes out is a unique, easy to listen to, but constructionally complex style.
How has your academic background as Professor Emeritus of Music Theory, History, and Composition at Centenary College influenced your compositions? How would you contextualize your music? The popular type of art music for the last couple of decades has been atonal sound mass. I am committed to music that is tonal and contrapuntal – an American Optimism that reflects not only the innovative Jazz composers that I have met (like Ellington), but also Neo-Classical composers like Darius Milhaud whom my mother studied with and championed throughout her life. American Optimism is like Nationalism represented by Gershwin, Ellington, and Grofé. It sounds like American roots and is reflective of Good Times.
How did this commission arise? Did Piercing Moon Trio contact you or did you contact them? Have you worked with these musicians in the past? Sofiko Tchetchelashvili, violist in the Piercing Moon Trio, has commissioned a viola sonata and pianist Chialing Hsieh collaborated with violinist Andrej Kurti last spring on “Three Values” which I wrote for Andrej. Because these musicians are so special, I decided to give them this sweet seven minute work to premiere at the Sugarmill Music Festival.
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a graduate student pursuing his master’s degree in musicology at the University of Louisville where, in April 2017, he was awarded the Gerhard Herz Music History Scholarship. Previously, Jackson graduated summa cum laude from the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, Louisiana following the completion of his undergraduate thesis, “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” From 2014 to 2016, Jackson served as director of the successful chamber music series, Abendmusik Alexandria, and since that time has remained concert annotator for presenters of classical music across Louisiana. His current research interests include French spectral music and the compositions of Kaija Saariaho. He recently shared this research in March 2018 at the American Musicological Society South-Central Chapter’s annual meeting in Asheville, North Carolina. Also a composer, Jackson has worked to integrate the vocabulary and grammar of modern music into compositions which are not only innovative but also engaging to the general listener. His compositions have been performed at the Sugarmill Music Festival and New Music on the Bayou. Learn more about Jackson Harmeyer, his scholarship, and his compositions at www.JacksonHarmeyer.com.