Near & Dear

Design by Annabel Rose Curtis


The title of this album is, to me, simple yet powerful. For the majority of my academic studies, I performed the works of others, many of whom I did not personally know or have any relationship with. That’s not to say that the experience of practicing and performing the music isn’t as meaningful; what I mean to say is that there will always be a degree or two of separation.

The first three tracks on this album are original compositions. By no means do I consider myself a composer, but I do not exclusively consider myself a performer, either. To me, being a musician means that you may have one or two primary strengths, but you’re also equipped to handle the additional aspects within the overall discipline (e.g., music theory, conducting, singing, etc.). Given that percussion is my primary medium of expression as a performer, it makes sense that this is the way in which I primarily express my thoughts and ideas as a composer. What is nearest to me is my mind and its musical ideas.

Once a person thinks beyond themselves, they first might think of those closest to them: family, friends, pets, classmates, teachers. Our relationships with people change over time; some friendships begin, others end, some strengthen, and some fade away. The final three works on the album are pieces that have a heightened level of sentiment to me, personally. What is dearest to me are the many people in my life.

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Album Liner Notes


Still Motion – Boyce Jeffries

with Geoffrey Conquer (piano), Adam Kaleta (vibraphone), & Rose Soenen (harp)

still
adj. – not moving or making a sound
noun –
1) deep silence and calm, stillness
2) an ordinary static photograph as opposed to a motion picture, especially a single shot from a movie.
motion
noun – 1) the action or process of moving or being moved
2) a gesture

Still Motion – an oxymoron, contradiction.

Spending many summers in Alaska on a commercial fishing boat provided me with both periods of stagnation and growth. The rest of the world seemed to keep moving, and I felt stuck and motionless. But yet, when I reflect back, those periods of stillness were filled with growth beneath the surface – deep inward reflection and pondering deep questions of life. Looking up at the Alaskan night sky filled with stars can seem static and unchanging, but still moving ever so slightly. Or was is my perspective, my perception that changed?


Musically speaking, the stillness of the work is rooted in the consistent pulse throughout and the static tonality of Ab Lydian inspired from one of my favorite John Cage works for solo piano, Dream. The motion is expressed as the various motivic cells of rhythm that are permuted amongst the quartet, the slight alterations of recurring melodies, and the timbral explorations of the four instruments.


What we may see, hear, observe might be more than just the initial perception. Or perhaps it can show how shallow/deep we are only going/willing to go.


Snapped – Boyce Jeffries

Human beings have their breaking point; some are slow to anger, and others can be irritable at the slightest inconvenience. Regardless of our own personal thresholds of patience, a person might just snap at some point. But what is on the surface may not be the only thing that is going on, psychologically.  Being able to recognize things beyond one’s immediate surface is, I think, critical to understanding frustration, sadness, or even anger. Musically speaking, I illustrate this through a few techniques that I “discovered” on the vibraphone.

On the ends of the two lowest notes (F and F# below middle C), there are sets of springs that help keep the tension on the strings that help suspend the bars of the instrument. If one pulls back on these springs and releases them, they will strike the sides of the bar. Not only can one hear the fundamental note that is struck (F or F#), but one will also hear an interesting, microtonal harmonic much higher above it; a similar effect can be created by using a mallet to strike the bars at a 90 degree angle either on the edges or sides. The second technique is what I’ve chosen to call “pedal vibrato;” similar to other types of vibrato in instrumental/vocal performance, this technique causes oscillations in the sound. In the case of the vibraphone, the performer moves their foot that operates the pedal as fast as possible, which makes repetitive but light contact with the bars, and slightly alters the amplitude of the sound (volume). In addition to the more obvious gestures of aggression and “manicness”, there are subtle “cries for help” that imitate the rhythmic frequencies of an S.O.S. message in Morse Code.

I would like to consider myself a patient person, but from personal experience, I know that I’ve snapped a few times in my life. Letting out the internal frustrations I’ve experienced has been one way for me to understand how things may have gotten to the point of “breaking the camel’s back.” It always seemed to be a build up of many things that I failed to recognize or express, and oftentimes, my feelings were much deeper than what was just visible on the surface.


City Fever – Boyce Jeffries

with Adam Kaleta (drum set & synthesizers)

Toronto was an exciting place to live for four years. Although much of my time was spent at the university, I enjoyed how active and vibrant the city was. The sounds of cars honking as I zipped by in the bike lane on Bloor Street; the hustle of footsteps inside the subway stations; people chatting at restaurant and bar patios on warm evenings; the number and variety of music events in and around town.

An important part of my life outside of my academic studies was the time I spent with the Toronto Tabla Ensemble (TTE). Initially, I started out as a tabla student, and later had the honor of participating with them in performance as a percussionist. Learning more about the art of tabla, and how its unique language can be transcribed and arranged for other percussion instruments was very exciting for me. But it was more than just the music; I had found a small community to connect with. Fellow students, ensemble members, and their families were extremely welcoming and caring. Some moments of learning and growing were more painful than others, but I am still grateful for all the experiences I had.

This track is dedicated to the members and families of the TTE, both past and present. Thank you all for welcoming me into your musical and cultural community. Moreover, City Fever is dedicated to the director of the TTE, Ritesh Das. The music of Ritesh and his ensemble has always been inspiring to me, and I am incredibly grateful for all the lessons he taught me. Thank you, Ritesh. 


Kennedy Sketches – Rand Steiger

The significance of this piece is due to whom the piece was written for; Daniel Kennedy. Dan was my primary percussion teacher for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Sacramento State’s School of Music. When I met Dan at my undergraduate audition, I was a junior in high school; he was a kind man and really took an interest in my initial goals as a musician. Little did I know how much of an impact he would have on me. The seven years I studied with Dan were filled with more than just percussion; we spent time riding bikes, woodworking and making temple blocks and cajons, doing home renovation projects, having a few beers, among many other things.

Dan now insists that we are friends, and I disagree; he will always be a mentor to me. I’ve come to the point in my relationship with Dan where he knows exactly how I feel about him, and there aren’t any more words to try and describe it. This album would not have happened had it not been for Dan’s guidance. Thank you, Dan.


Air Currents – Dorothy Jeffries

I met my wife in the fall of 2015 at Sacramento State; she was completing her Bachelor’s in music composition, and I was beginning the final year of my master’s. Our romance was slow to start, and we spent the first handful of months getting to know each other. The following year, I proposed to her the idea of composing a marimba solo for her graduating recital; she agreed and the work premiered in the spring of 2017. In this piece, each movement represents a different type of air current found around the world.

I. Mistral – a harsh, cold, dry wind that frequently occurs in the south of France, sometimes lasting for several days.

II. Sirocco – a hot, dry wind that picks up sand and dust as it blows, sometimes producing sandstorms. This wind occurs in North Africa drawing its hot air from the Sahara Desert, and often travels to the Mediterranean Sea where it becomes much more humid.

III. Kaver – a local term for a pleasant, gentle breeze in the Hebrides, a group of islands of the west coast of Scotland.

IV. Doldrums – a nautical term that emerged in the 18th century, referring to the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone. Near the equator, this area serves as the intersection of many trade winds that converge and die down. Sailboats can get trapped here for days, sometimes weeks.

V. The Barber – a harsh wind accompanied by snow and sleet while out at sea. This wind is appropriately named  for freezing everything in its path, including men’s beards and hair.

My wife is my number one fan and my number one supporter. I don’t believe I could have successfully completed my doctorate and this album without her love, encouragement, and sacrifices. Thank you, Dorothy. I love you.


Same Rivers Different – Michael Friday

“Upon those that step into the same rivers different and different waters flow…

They scatter and… gather…come together and flow away…approach and depart.”

-Heraclitus, fragments 12 and 91, Arius Didymus ap. Eusebium P. Exv.

The final track on the album is a piece that is one of my favorites to perform. I was first introduced to this piece by another one of my former percussion teachers, Chris Froh.  At the time, I was interested in this piece for “double keyboard” (marimba and vibraphone) and percussion, but I ultimately did not learn it. One of the initial ideas I had for my dissertation research was about repertoire for the “double keyboard.” Although this did not pan out as a research topic, I did a small lecture recital on works for the double keyboard; two were commissioned pieces, one was Kennedy Sketches, and the other was this piece.

Out of all the works I’ve learned, I feel like Same Rivers Different is the one that I’ve “made my own (as a performer).” What I’ve appreciated most about my experiences with performing this piece is the conversations I’ve had with its composer, Michael Fiday. Whether it be through email or messages over Facebook, Michael always took time to answer my questions and to offer feedback on the performance videos I’ve sent him. Although I’ve yet to formally meet Michael, his music is special to me. It helps to love a piece of music, but when it empowers you to feel like your own artist, that just makes the experience even better.