When we began contacting composers about this project, we did not have an overarching theme in mind. Our primary goal at the time was simply to play some new music together, but the project quickly developed into something much more. Once we had all the works in front of us, we began to see the full scope of the album, and the concept became very clear to us. Each of the pieces represents, in some way, the plethora of reasons we decided to pursue music. We experienced music’s ability to convey ideas that words cannot express. We have had music create vivid imagery in our minds. We have felt the inexplicable power of music and its ability to move us. And hey, all of us were at some point inspired by some sick, nasty grooves. Though each of us have very different stories, our early roots are the same. Our debut album, Roots, is an homage to the various aspects of music that caught our attention, shaped the way we viewed the world, and firmly planted a passion for music in each of us.
The recording features the STS faculty and guest artists in trombone ensemble settings ranging from quintets to the full 30-member STS Professors Choir. The Artists of the Southeast Trombone Symposium include current and former members of the STS faculty, representing orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchestra (Zurich), the Alabama Symphony, the Houston Symphony and others. Other performers include artist-teachers from some of the finest schools of music in the United States, and a few freelance trombonists. The CD was recorded in Legacy Hall at Columbus State University's Schwob School of Music, which has been home to a number of other fine brass recordings.
In The Tempest, this rather foreboding and gloomy text is sung by the tormented spirit Ariel to the young prince of Naples, Ferdinand, who has just escaped a shipwreck caused by the eponymous storm and is unaware of whether his father — the King, Alonso — has survived. In reality, Ariel’s dire taunt proves to be somewhat inaccurate, but his song has a place in the English lexicon partly due to two phrases which have entered common usage: “full fathom five,” a nautical reference that indicates a placement under a depth of thirty feet of water but is used metaphorically to imply an impossible and unavoidable doom; and “sea-change,” which describes an unexpected and profound transformation. Both of these images, along with the backdrop of a tumultuous squall, paint the musical language of John Mackey’s Fanfare for Full Fathom Five.
The fanfare is scored for an athletic array of brass and percussion: six trumpets (deliberately split into two quasi-antiphonal trios), six horns, three tenor trombones, three bass trombones, two tubas, and four percussion, with an ad libitum organ and the possible substitution of contrabass trombone. The orchestration and architecture of the piece is designed to be analogous to Richard Strauss’ Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare, but where Strauss’ fanfare is emotionally straightforward with bounds of unstoppable heroism, Mackey’s is more complex, taking the traditional fanfare rhythms and motifs and blurring them with a whirlwind of dissonance through chromaticism and murky glissandi that present the whole in a darker and more sinister context. All of the typical hallmarks of the fanfare genre are present: vibrantly articulated triplets in the trumpets, soaring horn lines, and brash pedal points in the low brass (doubled colorfully by the organ). The harmonic language is one of abrupt shift; the blustery opening seems to clearly establish B-flat major as the home key, but each time it seems to reaffirm this notion, it veers wildly into unexpected territory. The piece ends triumphantly in E-flat, but along the way it also takes detouring ventures through D-flat, G-flat, and perhaps most strangely, E major during the work’s contrastingly delicate midpoint. In the end, despite a journey that is continuously rich and strange, the heroes win the day and, as in The Tempest, all comes to a happy and victorious conclusion.