Monday, May 25, 2009

Chris Braddock's duet

A couple of years ago, Tracy Richardson and I collaborated on a piece I’d written for dobro and harpsichord. It got a positive reaction when we performed it together at a Mélomanie concert. But I couldn’t figure out if that reaction was due to the real musical worth of the piece or rather the novelty of combining an American bluegrass instrument with a European classical one. The last thing any composer wants is to use a cheap gimmick to get applause.

Last year Tracy suggested doing another piece for that combination. It’s always great to work with Tracy, so I said, “Sure!” I’d been playing mandolin and enjoying it so much that I decided to write a duet for those two instruments. For one thing, the mandolin is a much easier instrument to play convincingly than the dobro.

And the combination makes sense. They’re both plucked, metal-string instruments. The project assumed greater legitimacy last fall, when my family and I visited Mount Vernon, the northern Virginia estate of George and Martha Washington. During the house tour, one walks past the music room. There were a harpsichord and a mandolin.

Like many composers, and especially guitarists, I have lots of little “riffs” in my head. These figures sound particularly good on the mandolin. So I assembled these segments into a coherent piece of music. The harpsichord part came after that.

Composers sometimes say they’re disappointed the first time they hear a piece rehearsed. Perhaps it’s hard to measure up to the version in their heads. That was not the case with my piece “Pluck.” Right away it seemed natural, spontaneous and full of energy.


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