New Music Commissions

“A single person holds various identities (race, gender, citizenship, sexual orientation, ability, etc.). Those identities combined affect the way a person perceives their placement in the world.” – Lorelei Batislaong, lead editor of Decolonizing the Music Rooms.

Because we’re interested in understanding a variety of perspectives through music, Modern Marimba seeks people from a range of identities (race, gender, citizenship, sexual orientation, ability, etc.) to commission new music, especially those who identify as BBIA (Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian), LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual), people with disabilities, and womxn.

In the inaugural 2019-2020 season, Modern Marimba commissioned works from three composers.

Stephon Davis

Photo credit: Oreo

Modern Marimba commissioned three pieces for beginning & intermediate players. The following pieces are available for purchase by contacting composer directly on their website.


title: Skyglow
instrumentation: solo, 4.3 marimba and electronics
duration: 7 minutes 20 secs

Skyglow – noun. the brightness of the night sky in a built up area as a result of light
pollution.

Before the Summer of 2019, I had never seen the Milky Way galaxy in the night sky. I spent this particular summer in rural Maine, where light pollution is drastically less than in Orlando, FL and Boston, MA, the two other cities I had lived in before. I later learned that due to light pollution from cities, one third of the human population is no longer able to see the Milky Way when they look up to the sky at night. This piece mourns the gradual disappearing of our beautiful painting in the night sky and provides glimpses of the stars that burn behind our blanket of light pollution.


title: Early Bird Gets the Worm
instrumentation: solo, standard xylophone and electronics
duration: 2 minutes

Waking up to the sounds of birds chirping has always been my favorite thing about mornings. I wrote this piece to express that simple joy. Melodies in the xylophone part are taken from some of my favorite bird songs.


title: Unarmed Truth
instrumentation: solo, standard vibraphone and electronics
duration: 2 minutes

Written during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and across the world in 2020, I wanted to write a piece in honor of the movement. This piece includes an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. It is dedicated to the many diverse Black folks that have fought for our liberation.


Biography:

Stephon Davis is a Boston based marimbist, percussionist, composer, and arranger interested in identity-focused art. They are currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music Degree in Percussion Performance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Stephon studies marimba with Nancy Zeltsman, percussion with Sam Solomon, and is taking composition lessons with Marti Epstein.

Passionate about the marimba, they have premiered over 10 works for marimba in chamber ensembles, arranged eight works for solo marimba, marimba ensemble, and marimba in duo settings, and studied and performed numerous works in the solo marimba repertoire. Pierre Hurel (professor at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and pianist of the acclaimed Pierre Hurel trio) has described Stephon as a “colorist” and a “virtuosic” chamber musician who can “weave in and out of the texture with ease.” They have performed in masterclasses with Andrew Thomas, Steven Mackey, Beverly Johnston, Colin Currie, Thad Anderson, Marja Kerney, and Nancy Zeltsman.

Stephon’s music explores issues of Black/Queer identity, politics, and environmental issues. Their process of composing involves what they refer to as “aural painting,” in which inspiration takes the form of a mental painting, which then takes the form of sound. Their music has been described as “hauntingly beautiful,” “complex,” and “serious.” They have been commissioned by Modern Marimba and Marimba One artist, Cameron Denby.

When they’re not playing or writing music, Stephon enjoys cooking (100% plant-based), tending to house plants, volunteering with local political campaigns, writing, and reading. Stephon is the founder of So You Want to Talk About Race Book Club, a reading community of over 30 people around the United States who meet monthly to discuss books with themes of race and identity. Visit Stephon’s website.


Patricia Islas

In Summer 2020, Modern Marimba commissioned three pieces for intermediate players in Momentum, an intermediate level keyboard percussion book. Momentum is available for purchase at teamislas.com.


title: Kinetic Energy
instrumentation: solo, 4.0 marimba or standard vibraphone
duration: 3 minutes
(listen)

title: The World As I See It
instrumentation: solo, 4.0 marimba
duration: 3 minutes
(listen)

title: Point of Reference
instrumentation: solo, 4.0 marimba or standard vibraphone
duration: 2 minutes
(listen)


From the composer:

Teaching percussion at the middle school and high school levels makes me very aware of the difficulty students face when learning how to play with four mallets. Not only is it physically challenging but it is often introduced before many students have developed a real understanding and appreciation of the marimba. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with Burton grip! The drumline show I am currently writing for Coppell High School in Texas is almost exclusively with four mallets. However, in my young students, I saw their musical progress stagnate and their interest in marimba dying because of the frustrations that come with the complicated technique. Momentum is an intermediate level keyboard percussion book designed to develop the physical and musical skills for two-mallet playing. The exercises, etudes, and solos in it are aimed at helping players discover the awesomeness of the marimba and vibraphone while using a familiar technique. I composed the solos to be physically achievable but challenging, musically mature, and to sound cool enough to be worth the effort. I’ve been posting segments of the solos on Instagram and I’ve already had a lot of positive feedback. I find such fulfillment in playing keyboard percussion and I hope Momentum can help others develop a love for it as well!

Biography:

Patricia Islas is a performer, composer, arranger, adjudicator and educator in the Dallas area. Mrs. Islas is a graduate of the University of North Texas and holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance. While at North Texas, Mrs. Islas studied percussion under Mark Ford, Dr. Robert Schietroma, Christopher Deane, Paul and Sandi Rennick among others. She has also studied marimba with She-e Wu and Leigh Howard Stevens. With an interest in a variety of musical styles, Mrs. Islas performed with the Indoor Drumline, South Indian, Gamelan, Contemporary, and Classical Percussion ensembles while at North Texas. She also performed with the University of North Texas Symphonic Band under the direction of Dennis Fisher.

In 2002 Mrs. Islas received the award for the Best Individual Keyboard Soloist at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. Mrs. Islas was a winner of the UNT Concerto Competition in 2004, which led to performing with the Richardson Symphony Orchestra. During her time performing in the UNT Drumline, they were awarded first place at consecutive PASIC Drumline Contests. Mrs. Islas has performed at several music conventions including Marimba 2010 Festival and Conference, PASIC and SEMUS, Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States.

Since graduating Mrs. Islas has been an educator in the Dallas area for several years. Mrs. Islas has arranged and taught drumlines who have won numerous Outstanding Front Ensemble, Best Arrangement, and First Place awards. In addition to her work with many Dallas area schools, Mrs. Islas spent the summers of 2004, 2005, and 2006 arranging music and serving as frontline technician for the Southwind Drum and Bugle Corps. Mrs. Islas also taught the 2007 Blue Knights front ensemble.

Recently Mrs. Islas has performed clinics for many DFW area high schools along with Lone Star Percussion, A&M University Commerce, the Minnesota Day of Percussion and the Iowa Day of Percussion. Mrs. Islas has also been an adjudicator for several drumline and concert percussion contests including The Sun City Throwdown in El Paso. In 2011 and 2014 Patricia traveled to London to meet with Grammy winner Imogen Heap after contributing to a song titled “Lifeline” off of Imogen’s latest album. Currently Mrs. Islas is performing and composing music for her contemporary musical duo Team Islas who has performed several times with Grammy nominated and Grammy winning musicians. Patricia Islas proudly represents Lot Riot, Pro-Mark Sticks and Mallets, and Majestic Percussion. Visit Patricia’s website.


Alex Temple

title: Ah yes, the three genders
instrumentation: standard vibraphone and percussion (two players)
duration: 11 minutes
written: 2019, r. 2020

Modern Marimba joined the Spectrum Ensemble consortium for the commissioning of this piece in November 2019.


View the score.

From the composer:

“Ah yes, the three genders.” The meme started as a joking response to things like a trio of airport signs labeled “Men,” “Women” and “Telephones,” or an application form whose options are “Male,” “Female” and “Business.” Over time, it was extended to refer to any group of three things. In the case, the three genders are metal, wood and skin — the three materials that pair with the vibraphone in the piece’s three movements. The title is also a playful nod to my and the performers’ queerness.

“Metal” (featuring cymbals, bells and chains) consists of three versions of the same tune, in three wildly different styles: haunted music-box lullaby, chill-out jazz, and Very Fake Early Music. “Wood” (featuring woodblocks and shakers) is a perpetuum mobile with a habit of getting stuck. “Skin” (featuring drums and mouth sounds) is the longest and maybe the strangest, with dissonant, sensuous chords that keep getting diverted into blurry polyphony or staggering polyrhythms.

Ah yes, the three genders was commissioned by Spectrum Ensemble and the following consortium members:  Brian CalhoonScott Charvet & Elayne HarrisEmily Durocher, Beth Gunderia, Carla LackeyModern Marimba, Kathleen Rieken, Julie Taber, the Up:Strike Project (directed by Dr. Matthew Lau & Karen Yu), and Gloria Yehilevsky.

Biography:

A sound can evoke a time, a place, a cultural moment, or a worldview.  Alex Temple (b. 1983) writes music that distorts and combines iconic sounds to create new meanings, often in service of surreal, cryptic, or fantastical narratives.  She’s particularly interested in reclaiming socially disapproved-of (“cheesy”) sounds, playing with the boundary between funny and frightening, investigating lost memories and secret histories, and telling queer and trans stories.

In addition to performing her own works for voice and electronics, she has collaborated with performers and ensembles such as Mellissa Hughes, Julia Holter, Isabel Leonard, wild Up, Spektral Quartet, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  She has also played keyboards with the chamber-rock group The Sissy-Eared Mollycoddles, and made sounds using her voice, synthesizers and household objects with a·pe·ri·od·ic.

Alex got her BA from Yale in 2005, and her MA from the University of Michigan in 2007.  After leaving Ann Arbor, she spent two years working for the New York Youth Symphony’s Making Score program for young composers.  In 2017 she completed a DMA at Northwestern, and she is now an Assistant Professor of Composition at Arizona State University. Visit Alex’s website for more information.