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Blake Tyson | Firefish: Music of Blake Tyson

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Classical: Percussion Ensemble Classical: New Music Ensemble Moods: Instrumental
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Firefish: Music of Blake Tyson

by Blake Tyson

Beautiful, emotionally powerful music that is immediately accessible while possessing compositional depth.
Genre: Classical: Percussion Ensemble
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Cloud Forest
Blake Tyson & The University of Central Arkansas Percussion Ensemble
7:05 $0.99
2. Not Far from Here
John W. Parks IV & The Florida State University Percussion Ensemble
4:15 $0.99
3. Moonrise - I. The Moon Holds My Heart
Blake Tyson & The University of Central Arkansas Percussion Ensemble
4:06 $0.99
4. Moonrise - II. The First Time I Saw the Moon
Blake Tyson & The University of Central Arkansas Percussion Ensemble
5:03 $0.99
5. Firefish
Blake Tyson
3:08 $0.99
6. Inside the Shining Stone
Blake Tyson
8:04 $0.99
7. A Ceiling Full of Stars
John W. Parks IV & The Florida State University Percussion Ensemble
7:23 $0.99
8. A Cricket Sang and Set the Sun
Blake Tyson
5:48 $0.99
9. Vagabond of Light
Blake Tyson & The University of Central Arkansas Percussion Ensemble
6:54 $0.99
10. Not Far from Here for Solo Marimba
Blake Tyson
3:17 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Blake Tyson has a multifaceted career and is known as a performer, educator, and composer. Since 2001 he has been a member of the faculty of the University of Central Arkansas. His international performances have taken him to Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. He has performed at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the Northwest Percussion Festival, the Leigh Howard Stevens Summer Marimba Seminar, and at numerous Days of Percussion throughout the United States.

He received the DMA degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. While there he was also awarded the prestigious Performer's Certificate. He holds a MM from Kent State University, and a BM from the University of Alabama. His teachers include John Beck, Michael Burritt, Halim El-Dabh, Larry Mathis, and Peggy Benkeser. Blake Tyson has composed many works for percussion, including Vertical River, Anubis, A cricket sang and set the sun, A Ceiling Full of Stars, Inside the Shining Stone, and Cloud Forest.

Program Notes

Cloud Forest – Cloud Forest was inspired by my visits to Ecuador, my travels between Quito and Esmeraldas, and the Ecuadorian cloud forests. It begins with the spinning, uneven journey from the top of Ecuador to the Pacific Ocean and ends with the trip back to Quito. The work also depicts the beauty of the lush forests and the great times I had with my friends in Ecuador.

When I arrived in Esmeraldas after my long journey from Quito, the marimba I had expected to perform on was not there. The only marimba available was a small traditional instrument that had been built by a local musician. The piece I had planned to perform would not fit on this marimba. Rather than give up, I took the two hours I had before the concert, came up with some ideas, and then improvised a work that I called Journey to Esmeraldas. The main themes in Cloud Forest come from this improvisation.

Cloud Forest was commissioned by Spindrift Percussion Group in 2005. The original version was for percussion trio and soloist. In 2008 I revised the work for marimba soloist and percussion quartet.

Not far from here – Not far from here was originally dedicated to Jesse Milam (a student of Ben Finley at ECU in Oklahoma). His mother had a number of battles with brain cancer, and after one particularly rough semester for Jesse, a friend of his emailed me asking if she could commission a short piece that could be presented to Jesse as a gift from his friends. I agreed, and asked her to get all the friends that wanted to commission the piece together, have them give what they could afford, and then find a local charity where a little money could go a long way. It went to a local food bank in Ada, Oklahoma.
I wrote the piece for someone I barely knew, knowing that he probably wouldn’t have his mother here with him much longer. I wanted to, in some way, communicate the idea that she would still be here, and that because of her love for him, she would live on in him. They tell me that Jesse was pretty happy when they gave him the piece (he played it on his recital last year). This past summer his mom couldn’t fight the cancer anymore. I’ve gotten to know Jesse a little better since I wrote the piece; his mom raised a great son.

Our time here is limited. I’ve been okay with my mortality for a long time, but I find it difficult to be okay with everyone else’s. I’ve come to deal with it by understanding that people live on in the lives they touched while they were here. It’s the idea that my grandparents, parents, teachers, and friends are always with me because I wouldn’t be who I am without them. If all goes well, they will be here in the lives I’ve touched, even after I’m gone. That’s what the piece is about, for me.

When John Parks asked me to arrange the piece in memory Brandon Wood, I didn’t want it to just be an arrangement of a pre-existing piece. I wanted to find a way for it to reflect Brandon and his life. The introduction and opening countermelodies are built from the letters of Brandon’s name. The ‘Amen cadence’ at the end might seem cliché to some, but for me it is a reflection of Brandon’s life. Brandon’s faith in God was a defining part of his time here. Those two chords have come to represent so much to so many people. Among the things they represent to me are faith, hope and acceptance.
The ensemble version of Not far from here was commissioned by Dr. John W. Parks IV in memory of Brandon Wood.

Moonrise – Moonrise is dedicated to the memory of my grandparents, Carl and Gertrude Thomas. Moonrise was commissioned by Eric Willie and the TTU Percussion Ensemble.

I. The Moon Holds My Heart – Not long after my grandparents were married, they had their picture made at the county fair as they sat next to each other on a crescent moon. Pictures like these were common at the time and thousands of these “paper moon” photos can still be found in old family albums. Unfortunately, the photo was damaged over time and many details, including the faces of my grandparents, were faded or worn away.

The last time I saw my grandmother, she was too weak to get out of bed, but was still in good spirits. We spent those days looking at a lot of old pictures while she told me stories about my family. We came across one picture of my grandparents that I had never seen before. It was taken in 1938 just after they had decided to get married. My grandfather and grandmother are in front of her family home. She is standing on a piece of broken farm equipment so that she can reach up and put her arms around him. The photo is small, only a couple of inches across, but the excitement of young love jumps out of it.

When we had finished looking at the pictures, my grandfather sat down beside the bed, took my grandmother’s hand, and they talked about how they had known each other since they were barely teenagers. Time and illness had clouded many memories, but I could tell that the love they had for each other over seventy years ago was still there, and its power was overwhelming. I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. And, for just a moment, as they looked at each other, I saw their faces exactly as they must have looked the day they sat together on the paper moon. The power of love is transformational. It can change the way we see the world, and the way the world sees us. That day, for the first time, I saw them not as my grandparents, but as two kids who were so in love that they couldn’t imagine a future without each other.

The main theme of The Moon Holds My Heart is built on my grandparents’ names, Gertrude and Carl. I added my grandfather’s last initial to complete his motive.
G E R T R U D E = G E Re Ti Re Ut D E = G E D B D C D E
C A R L T = C A Re La Ti = C A D A B

II. The First Time I Saw the Moon

The First Time I Saw the Moon takes its inspiration from moments in my life, but it is an attempt to capture the feeling of overwhelming emotion and inspiration that overcomes all of us when we see, or feel, something that changes us forever.
When I was young, I attended a performance of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. As I watched from the second row, Robert Shaw took the podium and gave the downbeat. As the opening theme began, I remember the feeling of being enveloped by the sound of the orchestra and by the unbelievable beauty of the music. I heard music differently than I had ever heard it before. I remember that moment (and that opening theme) almost every day, and I can see Robert Shaw giving the downbeat as if I’m still sitting in the second row.

Last summer I travelled to Beverly, Massachusetts to see my niece Adalyn for the first time. One night we walked down to the shore of the harbor to watch the moon rise. As we looked out across the dark ocean, the moon appeared over the horizon and began to rise faster than seemed possible. As the moon floated above the dark water, everything began to glow in its light. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the moon, but it felt like it.

The First Time I Saw the Moon is a musical representation of the full moon rising above the ocean and it’s reflections on the water. It also reflects the first movement of Moonrise with its rising scalar passages, five-note groupings, and distorted appearances of the opening bass line. Beginning from stillness (represented by ringing vibraphones), a five note pattern emerges, depicting the moon rising above the ocean. As the moon floats higher above the water, the pattern transforms. A lullaby that I wrote for Adalyn is heard briefly and becomes a swirling ostinato. The falling thirds in the vibraphones begin to be reflected and transformed and flashes of Brahms’ opening theme appear. The piece closes as the themes dissipate into rising scalar passages while faint hints of The Moon Holds My Heart emerge and then quickly fade away. Although inspired by moments from my life, I hope the piece reflects the feeling of all the moments where inspiration and excitement make the world around us seem overwhelming, off-kilter, and magical. - March 2012

Firefish – Firefish was inspired by my dream of a fish that lives in the waters of the ocean, but whose body is composed completely of fire. The Firefish is agile, graceful, and inextinguishable. Whether jumping above the waves or swimming deep below the surface, the flames of the Firefish burn with a bright intensity. I like the idea of the Firefish, the idea of being inextinguishable, no matter what surrounds you.
Firefish was commissioned by Justin Alexander.

A cricket sang and set the sun – This work takes its title from an Emily Dickinson poem that begins, “The cricket sang, And set the sun.” When I read these words, I was moved by the powerful ideas they evoked. It was not just the image of a beautiful and slowly shifting sunset that struck me, but the idea that something so small could affect something so large, that a cricket’s song could transform day into night. Although the piece is not directly based on the poem, I have tried to capture the sense of fascination, inspiration and beauty that these opening lines create.

Inside the Shining Stone – Inside the Shining Stone is a piece for multiple-percussion inspired by the sacred spaces of ancient Egypt and conceived to be performed in the sacred places of Norway. It was composed in 2008 and revised in 2011. Not long after Josh Knight asked me to compose a work for multiple-percussion, I was invited to perform a series of concerts in Norway. The concerts were part of the European Cultural Capital celebrations in the city of Stavanger, and the theme was a coming together of the Christian and Islamic worlds. When I learned that the venues for each of the five concerts would be historic churches, I was inspired to finish the piece immediately so that it could be performed in Norway.

As I wrote the piece, I thought of my visit to the pyramids in Giza and of being inside the burial chamber of the Pyramid of Khafre. The resonance of the stone room was incredible and my friends and I talked of how amazing it would be to play drums inside the chamber. I thought of building a connection between the stone pyramids of Egypt and the stone churches of Europe. The first performance of Inside the Shining Stone was given inside the stone Ruinkirke in Sola. The Ruinkirke was originally constructed in the 1100ʼs, destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt from ruins in the 1990ʻs. The final Norwegian performance was given five nights later at the 12th century cathedral in Stavanger (Stavanger Domkirke).

The piece is made up of traditional rhythms that are layered, transformed, broken apart and reassembled. This represents the idea of reassembling the past from fragments of ruins. Although there are often three voices existing at once, no more than two are heard simultaneously. While the piece is structured, the structure is sometimes in- complete or “incorrectly” assembled, just as ancient ruins sometimes are. I also attempt to create a blurring of pulse and time. This is representative of the feeling one has when standing in and around the pyramids, and of the overwhelming power of history. The “shining stone” is a reference to the original outer layers of the pyramids. Covered with white limestone, the pyramids would shine in the sun and glow in the light of the moon.

Thanks to Josh Knight, who commissioned the work, for allowing me to premiere the piece in Norway. Josh gave the American premiere at the University of Oklahoma in 2010.

A Ceiling Full of Stars – When I was young, my dad and I found something incredible at the toy store. We took home a small planetarium made of yellow and black plastic and suddenly I could power an entire universe with just a couple of batteries. Moon landings were a recent memory and the space shuttle was just around the corner. Star Wars was in theaters and shows like Battlestar Gallactica and Space:1999 were on TV. It was impossible to avoid an obsession with outer space. Looking back, it is hard to believe that those shows were so short lived and that I probably saw Star Wars only once. With my planetarium creating a ceiling full of stars above me I was able to live out my own adventures every night, flying my spaceships though the galaxy, exploring new worlds, and getting into some pretty serious battles with stormtroopers and Cylon warriors.

A Ceiling Full of Stars is a journey through space as seen through the eyes of a child. There is a sense of wonder and amazement. There are struggles to break free of unseen forces and there are moments of weightlessness. A sense of speed simmers beneath a slowly moving surface, depicting the awe-inspiring infinity of space.

A Ceiling Full of Stars is dedicated to my parents who fostered my imagination, inspired my curiosity, and made everything possible.
A Ceiling Full of Stars was commissioned by the Texas Christian University Percussion Ensemble, Brian West, conductor.

Vagabond of Light – Vagabond of Light is inspired by the image of fireflies transforming a dark forest into a warm, glowing expanse of light. When Julie Hill and I began talking about a new piece for the Caixa Trio, I mentioned the idea of fireflies. She told me, coincidently, that her favorite word in Portuguese is “vagalume,” which means firefly, and literally translated is, “vagabond of light.” I knew right away that it was the perfect title for the piece.

The imagery of transformation in Vagabond of Light symbolizes something more. Not long ago, I suddenly faced the very real possibility of losing the one person who, since I was eighteen, I couldn’t imagine my life without. There are many emotions that flood over you when a loved one faces serious illness – fear, anger, desperation, sadness, and a hundred others. But, this piece isn’t about that experience. Instead, it is about coming out on the other side of it.

Vagabond of Light is a piece about being thankful for the past and being okay with the unknown future. It’s about finding the joy and beauty in the time you have right now and understanding that, because of the love you’ve known, the future is already better than it ever could have been...no matter what. It is about the transformative power of love, and the power that love holds over fear and darkness.

Vagabond of Light was written for the Caixa Trio and premiered at the Oklahoma Day of Percussion in Jenks, Oklahoma on April 6, 2013.
Vagabond of Light is dedicated to Liana. I would have never made it this far without her.



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