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Vesper Trains

for percussion quartet

//  Duration: 8'
//  Date:  2012
//  Instrumentation: odaiko and other non-pitched percussion
// Commissioned by Peter DiLeo
//  Premiere: 14 April 2012, Ann Arbor MI


Premiered April 14, 2012

University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

with: Peter DiLeo, Darren Lin, Jon Brown, and Paul Owen

subsequently performed by the University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble,

with: Ye Young Yoon, Nicole Patrick, Anthony De Martinis, and Patterson McKinney

This piece is inspired by the rhythms and sounds of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I lived and worked for five years: the chirping birds, construction noise, cars, helicopters, pedestrians, and trains. The town’s rail lines intersect every place I lived, shopped, and worked. The horns and the clanking of alarm bells call up memories of old friends and lovers, places traveled, places lived, the beauty and impermanence of it all.

Vesper Trains is scored for four players, each with a battery of non-pitched percussion instruments. After an opening flourish, the players alternate a rhythmic pattern on the large Japanese drum, the odaiko, consisting of a strike to its deeply resonant center, followed by a steady pulse established at the edge of the drumhead. The pattern escalates toward its goal: twelve strikes of the odaiko center, three for each player. But as the pattern reaches nine strikes, its momentum is interrupted by a new thought: a cheeky statement by the gongs and woodblocks. This brief song is gradually swept aside by the insistence of the train alarm bells.

The odaiko returns, faster this time, embellished by unison outbursts from the other instruments. It reaches its tenth repetition and is once again interrupted by the gongs and woodblocks in canon. The odaiko strikes then return, once again faster. They reach eleven strikes as the other instruments alternate instrument families in turn: skin, wood, and metal, leading to a coda in which the odaiko finally reaches its complete twelve-strike pattern, only to be undermined as a satisfying conclusion by the relentless quiet of the alarm-bell repetitions.

This piece was commissioned by Peter DiLeo for his senior recital at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. I am very grateful for Peter’s input, advice, and tireless effort throughout the genesis of this piece.


U of Michigan Percussion Ensemble
U of Michigan Percussion Ensemble
Vesper Trains - manuscript score on piano
Vesper Trains rehearsal 4-14-12
Vesper Trains Premiere 4-14-12
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