David Beidenbender (b. 1984) was born in Wisconsin and currently teaches composition at Boise State University in Idaho. His award-winning music spans a variety of genres and has been played around the United States and in several other countries. He has received commissions from a diverse list of ensembles. He studied at the University of Michigan and Central Michigan University. For a detailed biography, visit his excellent website.
Melodious Thunk came into being in 2012 on a commission from 10 high school bands (see the full list, and much more, on Biedenbender’s page devoted to the piece). He wrote his own program note, which is both in the score and on the website (links added by me):
I don’t normally like to begin program notes with dictionary definitions—it feels pretty stuffy to me—but it seemed appropriate for this piece, so here goes…
thunk [thuhngk] noun & verb
1. [n.] an abrupt, flat, hollow sound (example: The book landed on the floor with a thunk.); synonym: thud
2. [v.] to produce an abrupt, flat, hollow sound
3. [v.] colloquial past tense and past participle of think.
Melodious Thunk was inspired by the famous jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Monk’s wife, Nellie Smith, nicknamed him “Melodious Thunk” because of his clunky, awkward, and brilliant(!) piano playing, and his, somewhat scatterbrained and disoriented nature. I really liked the idea of playing around with Monk’s name—first, because I personally really enjoy goofing around with “spoonerisms” (silly, ridiculous, mix-and-match letter games, which often happen by accident: for example, slip of the tongue becomes tip of the slung), and, second, because this nickname actually provided great musical inspiration. Melodious—well, that’s fairly obvious—and thunk (which is a great onomatopoeia!) became the starting points for the piece. Big, fat thunks are interspersed with pointy, clunky, bluesy blips, which are then transformed into a long, smooth, laid-back melody accompanied by a funky bass line. I haven’t consciously borrowed any specific tunes or licks from Monk, although I do use a small fragment of Dizzy Gillespie’s tune Salt Peanuts, but I hope you’ll hear some similarities between this piece and Monk’s iconic musical style and quirky attitude.
The UNC Symphony Band in a live performance of Melodious Thunk:
A taste of the real Thelonious Monk:
Dizzy Gillespie himself performs Salt Peanuts (with an entertaining intro) in the 1970s: