SCENES Works for Solo Guitar
Scenes is my first solo recording following seven duo albums as a member of the Small-Torres and the Small-Clemente guitar duos. Through the years I’ve written many pieces for solo guitar, and found I had an album’s worth of old and new works. The three hymn tune arrangements were sprinkled throughout the duo albums, but I rerecorded them so that the sound would match with that of the other pieces that are receiving their premiere here. While the music spans some pretty diverse stylistic terrain, to my ear all of the pieces fit together well in this collection.
I started recording in August with an extraordinary, engineer Stephen Webber. He’s a Berklee faculty member and we’ve been co-workers and friends for years. Stephen was the engineer for four of the duo albums, so we’ve developed a great rapport in the studio. Each of us travel a fair amount with our respective work for the college, so last summer we started booking days here and there at his studio whenever we were both in town. We did a couple of sessions in the summer and a few more in the fall and early winter. We finally got to the mix on New Year’s Day 2011.
The music on this CD reveals some aspects of my musical personality that haven’t really been documented on the previous CDs. I am really pleased to present this music to all of those who have followed my duo work and to new listeners for whom this may be the first exposure to my playing and writing. I hope the musical scenes offered here will be pleasing to you all. Thank you for listening.
A few listener reactions . . .
“The CD is fantastic, beautiful sound, playing, and a fitting testament to your portrait as an artist and person. The compositions are very sophisticated, the hymn tune settings are more like re-compositions than arrangements. You should be very proud of this recording, and I hope it brings you back some deserved accolades.”
—Peter Clemente, 1985 first prize winner of the Guitar Foundation of America competition.
“I just listened to your album and I'm knocked out. The writing is amazing and your playing is phenomenal. The whole things is really beautiful. Keep going!”
—Mike Stern, jazz guitarist, former Miles Davis band member
“I am honored to have my composition “Farewell” included on this fine recording. Your playing is quite beautiful.”
—John Doan, guitarist and composer
“Thanks for the CD. You and the guitar sound great, I had fun listening! Congratulations.”
—Pepe Romero Jr., builder of Mark Small’s guitar
“I've just listened to your CD and I am totally blown away! The musical conception is so profound and the execution is so sensitive that one is not aware of the technical mastery behind it. This is an album of heart and soul and will remain in my car forever to take my mind off how much I dislike traffic!”
—Richard Niles, London-based record producer, arranger, and BBC presenter
“A huge thank you for the CD which you sent me. It’s really beautifully produced; the sound quality is lovely and the programme can’t be faulted ... oh yes, and the playing is excellent too! The disc is now in my car CD player (not many guitar CDs make it as far as that). It's lovely!
—Steve Marsh, music reviewer, Classical Guitar magazine (England)
As you know, I’ve always liked your music and I am very impressed to hear your CD. Beautiful music and great drive. Thank you very much for your kind words about our work together. You touched my heart with your romantic miniature “Malenky Etude.”
—Dmitry Goryachev, renowned guitar pedagogue
“Firstly I must say I loved the presentation, great design, colours and pictures and then as I heard the first few notes—a great recorded sound too. It's also makes a nice change to hear original music, for me my favourites are “April” and “October” and I like what you did in the “Malenky Etude,” especially when we end up on the E minor chord á la Villa-Lobos and then go off somewhere new. Great stuff!”
—Gerard Cousins, British classical guitarist
“Thanks for your guitar CD—sounds great! I don't know when you get the time to practice, but you've really kept up your performance skills. Also, really nice material.
—Mitch Coodley, New York-based composer
“I am really enjoying your CD. Your playing and the recorded sound are very beautiful. The new pieces are beautiful as well. I'm glad that I've performed many of your pieces as it was like meeting up with old friends hearing you play them. And pieces of music, like people in a way, change with time and experience. I really like how you play them.”
—Lou Arnold, classical guitarist
Scenes CD Liner Notes
One of the delightful mysteries of music is the power it possesses to stimulate visual impressions in the minds of listeners. Certain works—even small musical fragments—can fire the imagination with images from our world. A chevron of birds in flight, a serene mountain lake, the morning after a snowstorm, a starry sky, a cityscape, all from melody, harmony, and rhythm. Certain musical strains can release floods of memories that instantly connect us with the poignancy of times and places that we long to glimpse again. Like many before me, pursued a lifelong quest to find and capture the notes that may move others to feel such things.
The guitar has been an excellent musical companion in this pursuit. The range of musical styles into which its voice fits has enabled me (in different seasons of my life) to delve into folk, rock, jazz, and sacred music in addition to the classical repertoire. Consequently, the pieces I’ve written for this album have been shaped by my passage through diverse stylistic territories.
Three Hymn Tunes is a group of settings of popular hymn melodies: “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” “Abide With Me,” and “Come, Come Ye Saints.” My first serious exposure to hymn tunes began in 1984 when my wife MaryAnn and I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and felt the uplifting power of hymns through singing them. The canon of American hymn tunes includes original melodies and adaptations of folk songs that have enjoyed long lives in both Europe and America. When I began making guitar settings of hymns in 1993, my approach was to take them out of the vocal domain and into the instrumental world and attempt to illustrate aspects and images inspired by the titles and lyrics.
Joleen G. Meredith (1924-2004) wrote the melody to “Where Can I Turn for Peace” in 1971. Of the three hymns in this grouping, this melody has the shortest history, but has touched millions with a buoying message about turning to Christ for peace amid life’s tumult.
“Abide With Me” is considered a masterpiece of the Christian hymnody. British organist and composer William H. Monk (1823-1889) wrote this melody, which he titled “Eventide,” and joined it with lyrics penned by Reverend Henry F. Lyte as the latter was succumbing to tuberculosis in 1847. The line “the darkness deepens, Lord abide with me” builds on a metaphor relating the inevitability of the close of the day to the end of life.
“Come, Come, Ye Saints” is the best known of all Mormon hymn tunes. The melody is from an English folk song with lyrics written by William Clayton (1814-1879) after he and thousands of other Mormons were unlawfully ejected from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois in the winter of 1846. This setting opens with the single-line melody accompanied by a snare drum effect (produced by plucking the fifth and sixth strings after crossing and fretting them at the midpoint of the guitar neck), alluding to the forced exodus and historic Mormon pioneer trek across America’s plains. The ebb and flow of rhythmic and harmonic activity are meant to conjure up images of the energy and vibrancy of the pioneers who built a new city in the Salt Lake Valley.
Descent to a Dream explores the moments of waning consciousness as we drift into sleep. The piece opens with a serene melody that becomes more rhythmically animated as it develops. Whole-tone scale motives, suggestive of the dream state, appear periodically for transitions. Fragments of the main theme emerge again in the coda above a bass line and hypnotic arpeggios. Four long chords signal the final break with the waking world.
This work was commissioned by Boston-area guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan for his CD New Lullaby.
In the blues Mississippi Revisited, astute listeners might detect inspiration drawn from various blues guitar stylists blended with harmonies slightly reminiscent of George Gershwin’s music. The middle section with its walking bass line and chord jabs gives a nod to jazzmen Joe Pass and Lenny Breau.
The suite Four Scenes From a New England Calendar offers pastoral impressions of the part of the country where I’ve spent most of my years. The individual movements bear the subtitles “January”, “April”, “August”, and “October” and attempt to convey feelings about the seasons as experienced in America’s Northeast. As well, each movement explores different guitar textures and techniques and harmonies. “January” employs block chords struck vigorously in an eighth note pulse throughout. “April” is an atmospheric but melodic waltz at a medium tempo. In my mind, the rolling triplet arpeggio texture of “August” suggests ocean waves. “October” is dark and introspective with a lyrical melody. It brings the suite to a close with a coda that’s as warm and peaceful as glowing embers on a chilly night.
Malenky Etude is a short arpeggio study created to help master the right-hand fingering pattern found in “Etude 1” by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos. Virtually all classical guitarists have grappled with the unusual demands of that piece. “Malenky” is a Russian word for small, and the piece is dedicated to my Russian-born former teacher Dmitry Goryachev.
Beneath the Lowering Sky seeks to portray the reaction to the sight of angry clouds overtaking a formerly clear sky. It’s based on angular question-and-answer phrases built from the arrangement of nine tones. I worked this curious little melody through several permutations, presenting it in a number of harmonic and textural guises to fit a range of shifting moods.
Metheny is a tribute to the great jazz composer and guitarist Pat Metheny. Over the years he has named several tunes for people. Two musicians whose work has moved him—songwriter James Taylor and bassist Jaco Pastorius—inspired the tunes “James” and “Jaco.” I’m not aware of any musician returning the favor, so I named this piece for Pat. While it doesn’t directly quote any of his music, it does contain allusions to aspects of his style in the articulations of certain melodies, unusual chord voicings and progressions, Latin rhythms, vigorous strumming, and a button ending. It’s a tribute to an artist whose music has been a recurring theme in the soundtrack of my life since 1976.
Farewell is the only piece I didn’t write or arrange for this project. John Doan, best known for playing the 20-string harp guitar and for his Celtic-influenced compositions, came up with this gem. It’s tinged with a bit of Irish dolor that affected me deeply the first time I heard it. Who hasn’t experienced bittersweet resignation when the time for parting arrives and we desperately wish it could be postponed? John’s simple but eloquent tune captures that sentiment perfectly, making it an ideal choice to close this album.
Three Hymn Tune Settings arranged by Mark Small
1.“Where Can I Turn for Peace?” 2:18 (Emma Lou Thane and Joleen G. Meredith, © by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.)
2.“Abide With Me” 3:48 (Henry Francis Lyte and William H. Monk)
3.“Come, Come, Ye Saints” 5:24 (William Clayton/Traditional)
4.Descent to a Dream
Four Scenes from a New England Calendar
10. Malenky Etude
11. Beneath the Lowering Sky
(John Doan, © John Doan, Heirloom Serenades, BMI)
All selections composed by Mark Small, © 2011 (ASCAP), except as noted.
Mark Small: Scenes - Works for Solo Guitar
Scenes Review in August 2011 Acoustic Guitar
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