With chords in hand, I contacted Jeff Beecher, bass player in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and co-chair of the musician’s committee, to see if he and some of his colleagues would be interested in working with this initial chord progression for our first collaboration. Jeff was willing, found eight other players who also wanted to participate (2 violins, viola, cello, Jeff on bass, bassoon, french horn and clarinet), and we were off.
I sent them the chord progression and asked if they would augment and modify what I had written, by adding new chords, writing melodies to my chords, and/or proposing sounds suggested by my chords. All eight of them got back to me within a few days with a wealth of remarkable music including quirky melodies, jaunty and sometimes jagged rhythms, and some quite unusual sounds. It was a very pleasant surprise that they responded, and even a better surprise that what they send back was so interesting and so unexpected.
I then spent a few days incorporating their material into a small composition based on my chord progression, and wrote a score for us to play together, with me conducting (download score for “A Toronto Symphony” kick-off piece). In the circa 5-minute piece I wrote, I also included sections that allowed us to improvise together using particular chords as the basis, with instructions for the players to look at my gestures to make the music more “dreamy,” “majestic,” or even “spasmodic”! (Look at bars 50-51 and 55-57 in the score, for example).
You can hear how we put this all together in the performance we gave at the ideacity conference in Toronto on June 14th.
In this initial collaboration, and using this core chord progression, we tried to demonstrate how musical ideas can go back and forth between you and me, how we can build up rich and interesting musical stories from simple beginnings, and how we can spontaneously shape and mold musical materials as a sculptor would shape and mold a mound of clay. We’ll be developing and expanding these methods for all parts of A Toronto Symphony.
And it would be great if you had time to familiarize yourself with this chord progression. Listen to the recorded performance. Try playing the chords on the piano. Try recording the chords in Garage Band or another sequencer and playing around with them. Because even though they are simple, these chords are also full of potential, and I bet we’ll want to come back to them as one of the unifying elements that helps to pull together our many voices in A Toronto Symphony.