Moon Dances, Op. 19

for Orchestra (,, T+3, Pno., Strings)

Opus 19, 2010, rev. 2021

Duration: 7m


  • Moon Dances
PDF Perusal Score

NOTE: The audio demo above has inaccurate percussion playback due to many unusual and intricate percussion parts. I will upload a better demo when I can record some actual percussion performances.

Moon Dances is a dance between wondrous mystery and quixotic playfulness, represented by music that suggests an endless abyss and music that I like to refer to as "space jazz."

Most of my compositions begin with a fairly clear concept in mind even before I start composing. Moon Dances, on the other hand, suggested itself as I was experimenting with a scale I had become fascinated with after discovering it in Nicholas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. It consists of alternating minor third and minor second intervals that, repeated 3 times, brings us back to the octave, like this:

As I was exploring its possibilities, I discovered a number of intriguing polychords that I felt were suggestive of deep space. At the same time, the melodic intervals sounded quite jazzy to me, having a number of years experience in performing early jazz. Ordinarily, those would be two completely different concepts and musical directions. But during the COVID-19 shutdowns of Spring 2020, I allowed my imagination to journey through space to alien moons covered in ice over a hidden liquid ocean... or to volcanic moons in fast orbits... or to airless pock-marked moons, scarred by eons-old meteor strikes. I imagined what it must be like to dance among these moons, playfully bouncing in the low gravity like the astronauts of the Apollo missions, forgetting for a moment the immense danger they faced being there.

Thus Moon Dances was born. Both possibilities—the mysterious and the playful jazziness—could be explored in the same piece! While I was at it, I couldn't help but include a hat-tip and nod to John William's Cantina Band from Star Wars, which you'll hear after the first big climax.

In addition to the “space-y” harmonies derived from the above scale, I also sought “other-worldly” sounds to incorporate in the percussion section, which is as equal in importance to the entire rest of the orchestra in conveying the wonder and mystery of alien moonscapes. I wonder what other pieces will suggest themselves as I flip through Slonimky's Thesaurus?