Insects: A Musical Entomology in Six Legs
(Woodwind Quintet)

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Composers often look for fanciful themes and titles, and one of the most successful is Saint Saens "Carnival of the Animals." I have created a carnival myself, a musical entomology where each leg or movement is a musical picture of a different insect. "Leafhoppers Dig Ragweed" pokes fun at the traditional ways that rags are usually performed. You may hear that my rag has more dissonance than Scott Joplin would have used. In a middle section, each instrument in the quintet will try to outdo each other with leaps and jumps.

  The second leg is called "A moment in the Meadow" and sounds like an August evening where three insects are chirping together and against each other, drifting in and out of phase. You will hear that the oboe is one insect, the clarinet, another, and the flute and bassoon together make the third. Since the melodic fragments are short and simple, this leg is a minimalist work, an intentional tip of the hat to the composers Phillip Glass and Steve Reich who popularized the style.

  The third leg is Mr. and Mrs. Flea, represented by the clarinet and the piccolo, respectively, and as in any marriage, they often agree and disagree in predictable fashion.

  Composers and performers enjoy challenges, and the March of the Ants is composed entirely of whole tone scales which have an unusual sound. Usually, one instrument plays he melody while the others accompany. But here, each instrument has to simultaneously play the melody and the accompaniment. All except for the French horn is like the bugler in an old army, marshalling the troops. So imagine perhaps that these are soldier ants off to do battle.

  The distinctive feature of a firefly, is his glowing tail, and to convey this image musically, I settled on trills. Up to this point in the suite, the movements have used a lot of short phrases with staccato notes because to my ear, that is the way that leafhoppers and fleas move. But fireflies float and hover, so the phrases are long and flowing, and the poignant melody belongs almost entirely to the flute, the most firefly-like instrument in the ensemble.

  The final leg is a cartoon, and treats the quintet as if it were a big band, with a tip of the hat to Henry Mancini. You might imagine that Chubby is like Mancini's Pink Panther, a loveable, jazzy and cool sort of guy, even though he is a cockroach. If a firefly is a flute, then a cockroach must be a bassoon. Sorry about that! Now there is no strict scenario that you should envision for this cartoon, but as the movement progresses, you may in your mind's eye see Chubby strut around, cautiously investigating his surroundings. At one point, you he has a party in the pantry where he finds bananas, or does he? Although Chubby is cool and hip, I'm afraid that nobody likes a cockroach, so his life is in mortal danger throughout the movement. I don't mean to alarm you animal lovers, and pacifists, but there may be violence!!

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