Archive for December, 2008

Listening Page #48: Ken Davies

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

NOVEMBER 16, 2008

Ken Davies: Sapphire Kaleidoscope for solo piano movements 1, 2 & 3 performed by Rebecca McNair, pianist

Sapphire =  a translucent or transparent variety of corundum, varying in color.
Kaleidoscope =  anything that constantly changes, as in color and pattern.
These three movements are each loosely based on a visual image I entertained of varying shades of colored “gem stones” (short motifs and pitch sets) in constantly changing patterns. Like the images of the tubular kaleidoscope, rotations may reveal an appearance of similar variations and then suddenly generate a distinctly different pattern from which there appear to be a variety of similar variations before generating yet another distinct pattern.

From my youth as a member of a small country Methodist church, I could have been described as a “teeth gritting believer” always searching for a little more evidence and verification of spiritual reality in much the same way many of us composers search for that slightly more convincing chord. I was a church hopper during college and young adult years. But it was during a particularly “difficult” time in life (“horrible” is more accurate) that that searched for verification came. My music work had disappeared in a recession and I was working as a carpenter attempting to maintain my few possessions and sense of identity. During one difficult day, my sarcastic but desperate prayer yielded that rare “cleansing touch of God” that so often gets called a “momentary psychological delusion” by some. Yet, the personal reality is clear, even if it does take several days to process it all. That was followed by a couple years of intense personal study of several Bible versions, a couple commentaries, Christian radio and TV playing in the background, and a friendly minister of whom I could ask the deepest questions. I became aware of how easily God had micro-managed the lives of Bible figures and that He could do the same for me. Of course, I still had difficulty learning where that fine line was between working desperately hard on the one hand and letting Jesus handle it on the other. And, of course, I naively expected that bad things would stop happening to me.
Fast forward through some more difficult times which somehow guided me back into school, in my late forties, completing the master’s degree that I once thought would be logistically impossible. It’s like Jesus said: “remember when you heard that Debussy piece in high school and ‘it’ told you that you were supposed to be a composer?”
“Well, get busy. You’ve already lost a lot of years.”
Fast forward one more time to one of my composition lessons where my professor questioned why I’m attempting this so late in life, coming from being ‘so far behind.’
“Well, it’s like this,” I said, finally getting down to the bottom line. “If there’s a music department in Heaven, I don’t want to fail the audition.”
He stared at me for an hour’s worth of thirty seconds while I pondered how such an absurd, anti-academic statement could slip out of my mouth without my stopping it. “That’s a good answer!” he said.
Since then, music and life has been seemingly slow but progressive. There have been enough awards, performances, credentials and contacts with other composers and performers to help me know that Jesus can manipulate the art music biz on my behalf. Though most of my work is secular, I occasionally get to also write some religious music and sometimes it gets performed. On my better days when I have my self-doubts under control, I know that not only will I have a place in Heaven, but that I’ll get to hang out with composers and musicians instead of having to work in the carpentry department.

A Wisconsin native, Ken Davies holds an M.A. in trombone from Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro and an M.M. in composition from the University of Colorado at Boulder where he was an Effinger Fellowship composition student.  During the 1970s, he was a full-time trombonist with Gabriel’s Brass, a 12-piece jazz-rock show band based in Orlando, Florida, often appearing at Walt Disney World.  He has worked as a commercial arranger and session producer for nationally broadcast record and television projects. Since 2002, he has resided in south Mississippi where he teaches brass, composes, and runs his publishing company, Kenvad Music. His works include acoustic and electronic pieces that have been performed nationally at Society of Composers national and regional conferences, Southeastern Composers League, the International Trombone Festival, CFAMC, and several concerts. His electronic ambient CD, Floating Galaxy, is available at CD Baby and iTunes. Mp3s of his works may be heard via his website Honors include ASCAP awards and grants from National Endowment for the Arts and Mississippi Arts Commission, including the 2006-2007 Mississippi Performing Artist Fellowship in Composition, and he is listed on  Southern Arts Federation’s artist registry.

– – –  SOLI DEO GLORIA!  – – –

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