Combine some of the darkest, most powerful pieces in classical literature into one arrangement and you get The Dark Side of Classical Music. This drumline show is written for 22+ players and features an array of challenging and exciting moments that are sure to captivate listeners; it is a modern take on the staples of the classical world.
Instrumentation: Marimba (4), Vibraphone (4), Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Chimes, Timpani, Piano, Auxiliary Percussion (2), Snareline, Tenorline, Bassline (5) – (22+ Players)
Scroll down to read an in-depth analysis of each movement of the show.
The introduction to The Dark Side of Classical Music consists of Sonata No. 14.
The first phase of the opener is meant to be as ominous as possible while resembling the original piano composition. The recognizable piano part is the only thing that starts the show; it gives the listener something to connect with. I decided that I would keep adding parts to keep building tension. Since the impact would take care of volume and, well, impact, I wanted to keep this part as “chill” as I could. The interplay between Marimba I and Marimba II gives a sort of complexity to the otherwise simple rhythms that the piano is playing. Along with the interplay comes a massive amount of hemiolas that not only make the rhythmic structure more interesting but add a sense of tension and craziness to an otherwise straightforward piece. The permutations in measure 9 continue the push towards some type of relief of tension. The vibraphone solo is picking up at this point as well. From a composition standpoint, I believe that that measure 9 and 10 set the stage for the rest of the show. There is something off-feeling about the solo, which makes the climax of this part even better. Measure 12 marks the introduction of Glockenspiel, Chimes, and Crotales; at this point, almost the entire ensemble has joined in. I left the vibraphone section alone as to put more attention to the solo player, especially in the measure leading up to the climax.
As stated in the foreword, this show follows an up and down pattern; the end of the first phase marks the first drop in volume. Interplay and rhythmic diversity returns as many of the instruments drop off into a quiet, eerie silence. The impact at B will quickly change that, though.
I bet you were wondering when the battery would come in! The first three measures feature – once again – interplay between the front ensemble and the battery percussion. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a fan of this type of thing). C quickly gets rid of the space that the impact creates; the main melody of this opener is introduced. The Marimba section gets a nice work out in the independence department, as the left hand and right hand – while they don’t move much – are playing different rhythms throughout the first phrase. The first two vibraphones have the melody, but most of the ensemble is playing something other than the main part. The effect of the vibraphones breaking through all of the chaos is neat. Again, this idea is something that I wanted: complete chaos that still unifies into an idea that sounds less chaotic than it looks.
The front ensemble stays mostly the same in terms of idea until Measure 29. The battery, on the other hand, is completely separated in idea for a couple of measures. Again, everyone loves chaos. There aren’t many places where everything is unison, so the small places where a unison moment happens (Measures 20, 23 (kind of), 25, and 26) are even more important than before. Of course, as Measure 29 hits, things change. The drop in dynamic signals a refresh of idea. The battery and front ensemble become more unison in ideas – wait, Bass break – and at D things become more solid. The Tenors shine, accompanied by soft Basses. The front ensemble is the main focus here, though. Measures 44-48 are the unison front ensemble run that (frankly) is overdue by this point, and E is the first climax of the opener. Unison battery and front ensemble parts are here to give a break from complete chaos, and F quickly approaches. Here I wanted to use the simple melody from the symphony and create drive through the small runs underneath. They are scattered all around (you get the chaos theme, yet?) but add a lot to the idea. Eventually, the runs take over and the ensemble follows suit. I actually never caught onto this idea until after it was done. I’m definitely still learning new things about already finished works.
G is the biggest climax of the opener (loud diddles always indicate an important part – always); this large unison moment finally puts an end to the chaotic nature of this phase of the show. The massive run from piano to forte in the front ensemble is accompanied by the battery to finally drive toward the end of the opener. The chromatic scale in Vibraphones III and IV add one last pinch of crazy to the piece before it finally comes to a loud close. The random 7/8 measure is not a mistake; 3/4 was too short of space and 4/4 was too long. But, good ol’ 7/8 is the perfect amount of time. The Tam-Tam should definitely be loud, too.
The ballad is an arrangement of Adagio for Strings by Barber.
This one was tough. This part of the show gave me the most trouble; I was tasked with taking a piece that is essentially all quarter notes and turning it into something that pushed forward and had the momentum I wanted. I consider the final product to be a job well done! Here is a breakdown of this section:
H starts the ballad. The chimes announce the entrance of all four vibraphones accompanied by the piano. The melody comes forward and marimbas soon come in to add more color to the vibraphones. One challenge that made itself known throughout this process is that instrument colors only work for so long. Having the melody on the metals throughout the entire ballad would get boring and redundant. This is exactly why the listener hears small bits of other instruments throughout: crotales, bells, chimes, piano, etc. The sixlet patterns in the first phrase give a hint of drive that I feel is needed to almost remind the listener that this show is still pushing toward something.
Speaking of moving forward, I is the phrase that really gets the drive of this movement started. The accelerando up to 94 BPM is a small change, but it is drastic enough to be felt. It gives the entire section more of a forward motion that leads to a pivotal point. At this point, the marimbas come and take over the melody more, along with the piano. The ensemble is playing in unison for the most part, but there are small sections of interplay thrown in every now and again. The timpanist is the metronome here; this player provides the baseline to make sure that the ensemble stays together as the tempo speeds up and we arrive at J.
J and K serve the purpose of – you guessed it – pushing toward the climax of the ballad. The ensemble splits here and the unison feel goes away. The marimbas are playing a triplet pattern that adds color to the melody (which is simple in rhythm) that is played by the metals. K introduces the unison feel with the run and the whole note chord before quickly moving away from that idea once again. As the ensemble moves toward L, interplay is the name of the game. Hemiolas create a lack of unity as the ensemble drops down and moves toward the huge major chord.
L is the grand moment; all of the ballad moves toward this point. This huge relief of tension is carried by the vibraphones as the marimbas accompany with permutations to add more color. Eventually the marimbas take over the melody (to prevent the metal sound from being stale like I mentioned earlier), and the entire ensemble drops out and the quiet returns. The chimes ring once again signalling the end of the movement like they did for the start of the movement, and the silence returns again.
As I have mentioned, this show follows an up and down pattern; the chimes in this movement signify the beginning and the end of another part of the bigger pattern of the show. The challenge of taking a piece so well-known and making an arrangement that tries to stay as accurate to the original – both in composition and in beauty – as possible helped grow me as a composer and as a writer. Even though this part of the show fought me the entire way, it is definitely my favorite part of The Dark Side of Classical Music, and I hope I've made you love it more as well.
Movement III (A)
M begins the first part of the closer, and it leads into the first “sub-part” of the fourth movement. The build is driven by the tenor section but quickly incorporates the rest of the battery. The piano raises a half step to build tension, and everything lands at N with the beginning of the Danse Macabre section.
This section of the closer is in chunks to allow for certain sections to be featured. The first movement focused a lot of on the front ensemble (not to mention the second movement that was solely the mallet percussion), so this is where the battery gets to be featured. O is the snare break; the vibraphone plays the melody that the flute plays in the original score but stays out of the way to make room for it. The second phrase in the original score has the same melody but adds strings and other colors, and the same happens at P here. This phrase is the bass break and builds toward the next letter which introduces many more instruments.
Finally, at Q, the entire ensemble is playing together. The main melody of this section is simple in nature, allowing for the battery to be the star of the show without completely removing the mallet percussion from the picture. R has the same underlying melody as the previous letter but gives the front ensemble more layers with the mallet run in the xylophone and marimbas. All of this very fast paced momentum comes to a screeching halt at S. This short-lived section is provides a much-needed break from the intensity of the previous two or three phrases but quickly grows into my favorite section of this part of the closer.
At this part of the arrangement, the battery will be the main part even though the front ensemble is still playing in unison. The xylophone, marimbas, and vibraphones all play a descending chromatic pattern (like the violins do near the end of the original piece), but the battery spices things up with a large amount of interplay. Almost every measure in this section has snare, tenors, and basses playing parts that are separated; this on top of the pattern in the front ensemble has a really neat effect. As I mentioned before, this allows for the battery to takeover for this phrase. Measure 193 is when the group once again becomes one unison idea. The front ensemble creates the space for the battery to push toward the impact at U. That impact begins the final section of the arrangement.
Movement III (B)
Bringing the entire arrangement together is the reinstating of Sonata No. 14 at U. Here, the piano takes the lead as it did in the beginning; the bassline and marimbas build until it all comes down at V. The keyboard parts here are very open, making room for the battery to fill in the spots that the main melody leaves open. The ensemble focuses more on impact rather than putting down a lot of notes, and I feel this adds a great groove feel to the section as a whole.
W is where the runs come in. This very last one drives the entire ensemble as a moving unit toward a massive conclusion. The second to last chord is there to build one more ounce of tension before releasing it all and ending the arrangement. While this section is not very long, I find myself really enjoying it whenever it comes up in the show. The force it has is something that is unique within the arrangement, and I am very proud of the way it all wraps up.
My final thoughts: All in all, I am very proud of the way that this show came together. There are always going to be things that I could fix or do better, but – keeping in mind that it is my first arrangement for a full ensemble – I am pleased with the message that the final product gets across. I definitely learned a TON about myself, the music I arranged, and the instruments that I arranged for; I can’t wait to put this knowledge to good use in the near future. To those of you that kept up with this series, showed interest in the show, or simply listened to it to check it out: thank you! I really enjoyed writing about this music and expressing my thought process along the way. Any feedback and constructive criticism is welcome, as I am always looking to improve in any way possible.
Click here to listen to the full work on the Library page.