American composer Dana Wilson (b. 1946) has won numerous awards and grants for his work. His music has been performed and recorded across the United States, Europe, and Asia. He has been commissioned to write new works by organizations and prominent soloists around the world. His output includes music for orchestras, chamber groups, choirs, and a wide-ranging repertoire for bands at all levels. Educated at the Eastman School of Music (DMA, 1982), he is currently the Charles A. Dana Professor of Music in the School of Music at Ithaca College. To read more about his distinguished career, visit his website, wikipedia, his Ithaca faculty page, or the American Composers Forum. For an overview his music by one of the distinguished figures in our field, visit Tim Reynish’s website.
Speak to Me (2010) is the result of a commission from John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma, California. Wilson’s program notes describe both inspiration for the piece and the way he uses its main idea:
There is a long tradition in jazz of instruments carrying on a conversation–either intricate, soloistic dialogues (often improvised) or the call and response of larger forces. Speak to Me is above all such a conversation, at first among soloists and then among more and more performers as they gradually join in. This piece begins with a simple tune that increasingly overlaps with–and is interrupted by–other ideas, generating enormous energy along the way.
Aside from its jazz elements, Speak to Me is also a study in the chromatic scale for almost every instrument in the band, with its main motive built on chromatic fragments that are gradually extended to cover more than two octaves at times.
Here is a recording that also allows you to read along in the score:
I had a small part in bringing that recording, by the University of North Texas Wind Symphony, into being, since I conducted rehearsals and a preliminary performance of it at the University of North Texas Conductor’s Collegium in the summer of 2014, just before the recording was made.
For some context on this piece, here is a clip of the type of jazz conversation that Wilson has in mind, in the form of a TEDx talk: