"The music of Alex Shapiro offers us the most spirit-full, feelingful and timeless opportunities to experience life at the deepest levels of significance - a journey of transcendence.
SUSPENDED is an indescribably effective composition and an incredible journey that greatly aids our ability to continue to work through our losses of people, and principles. Having witnessed the profound impact SUSPENDED created for our students and audience, I wish every conductor would program this work. Its significance is beyond words."
Conductor Dr. Glenn C. Hayes
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Click here to listen:
Choose either the .mp3 or .WAV (better!).
SUSPENDED (full symphony; ca. 26')
Live premiere recording, July 13, 2021.
Performed at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
by the National Intercollegiate Band,
Cynthia Johnston Turner, conductor.
Track start timings forthe four movements:
Movement 1: AIRBORNE: 00:00
Movement 2: DISTANCED: 04:55
Movement 3: MASKED: 13:55
Movement 4: VIRAL: 19:00.
Recording Engineer: Mark Morette
Mixing and Mastering: Alex Shapiro and Jon Rosenberg.
SUSPENDED: PERUSAL SCORE
(email Alex for access code)
Not for performance or duplication.
.pdf file of the TRANSPOSED
9 x 12; 128 pages including cover and notes.
Please note: the first movement, AIRBORNE,
is purely acoustic, with no accompaniment track.
Each movement is designed to also be programmed separately:
Premiere recording by the National Intercollegiate Band,
conducted by Dr. Cynthia Johnston Turner; live at the DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, WI. July 13, 2021.
THE PROGRAM NOTE
SUSPENDED is an emotional journey, and the catharsis I felt throughout the eight months of writing it helped keep me sane amidst a world of dismal uncertainty. The piece is composed in the tradition of an 18th century Classical symphony: four contrasting movements which serve specific functions and reveal a story. The work begins in absolute rage and chaos, then alternates between moments of grief and bleakness. Grim reality shifts to a macabre, circus-like insanity, and by the end, flickers of genuine hope contrast a pervasive sense of dread, and finally arrive at more optimistic possibilities.
AIRBORNE is the sole movement that's purely acoustic, with no accompaniment audio soundscape. It launches the symphony upward with a tightly motivic Sonata form of short repeating passages, in an unrelenting, ever-swirling and disorienting wake-up call. Scream with me.
DISTANCED is an anthemic, pensive unravelling which begins lost in anguished melancholy, and expands to a raw, poignant, and pleading wail. Cry with me.
MASKED is composed in the exact shape of a Classical Minuet and Trio waltz, though the music—a whimsical if somewhat demented masked ball (or, balls, in this case)—bears little connection to that of Mozart or Haydn. Historically, third movement Minuets gave way to the joke-like Scherzo, and the Trio section tips its hat to some welcome levity. Laugh with me.
VIRAL ends the work with an energetic, percussively driven seven-part Rondo. Light is trying to break through the weight of the times in a frenzied and unresolved push to the final exuberant, insistent notes. Dance with me!
As for the title: our lives have been suspended in countless ways: suspension of daily patterns due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, suspension of social justice and human rights, suspension of the U.S. government as it was held hostage by a vile cult leader and treasonous insurrectionists, and the overall suspension of decency as social media amplifies the most base and ugly instincts among people.
Surely, we can do better.
A piece of music should stand on its own, regardless of any message its composer may attach to it. Audiences don't read about music, they listen to it. But as Victor Hugo wrote, "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent".
The arts have a powerful role in improving society by awakening consciousness through thought-provoking, emotional moments. If a piece of music can spark conversation among listeners, that is a meaningful impact, and a benefit in addition to that of the notes themselves.
San Juan Island, WA
PROGRAM BIO for Alex Shapiro
Watch the Eastman Wind Ensemble perform SUSPENDED on March 23, 2022, with conductor Cynthia Johnston Turner.
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.
Please note: The audio tracks in movements 2, 3, and 4 were not fully picked up by the video microphone. The audio in the hall is as loud as the ensemble, as can be best heard in the .WAV recording above.
Watch the San Jose State University Wind Ensemble perform VIRAL at the College Band Directors National Association Western/Northwestern conference at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA on March 18, 2022, conducted by David Vickerman:
ALEX DESCRIBES SUSPENDED
in an April 2021 interview with conductor and composer Michael Shapiro (no relation), Alex discusses the new piece.
Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, etc. are wonderful tools for affordably bringing Alex into your rehearsal, without having to book a plane flight! She has a great time coaching students, and the difference between their musicianship at the beginning of the session and by the time it ends, is remarkable.
Alex can tell the ensemble about how the piece was created and engage them in conversation, and even show them how her digital project studio works! It's also easy to arrange to have her say hello to the audience during a concert, via a custom video. Webhearsals connect musicians to the real person-- and the stories-- behind the notes on the music stands. Get in touch with Alex-- her contact info is at the bottom of this page.
Alex was an early adopter of online "webhearsals"! Here's one from December 2012 with Alex in her studio
on Washington's San Juan Island, and band director
Mary Bauer and the Mt. Mansfield Union High School Band far across the continent in Vermont.
ALEX RECAPS SUSPENDED
CLICK the photo below to watch the December 2021 interview Alex gave for conductor LaToya Webb, discussing writing and premiering SUSPENDED at the NIB 2021 conference:
Alex has written an extensive two-part article about electroacoustic band music and the uses of multimedia in the concert world. The essay, titled The e-Frontier: Music, Multimedia, Education, and Audiences in the Digital World echoes the presentations she has given at the 2013 Midwest Clinic, the 2014 TMEA convention, and countless other seminars, and appears in the June and September 2014 issues of the magazine of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, WASBE World. The pdf is offered here with the very kind permission of the organization.
The National Intercollegiate Band 2021.
Dr. Cynthia Johnston Turner, left; Alex Shapiro, right.
SUSPENDED is a complicated work, and Alex is fortunate to have a small team of wonderful people who make her pieces sound and look as terrific as possible!
Alex is grateful for her longtime collaboration with Chicago-based music preparation guru specialist and trombonist John Blane! He is responsible for the hundreds of pages of score and parts to SUSPENDED looking so clear and professional.
Alex also thanks her friend, composer and percussionist David Jarvis in Pullman, WA, for recording the samples at her request of the ping pong balls on the cymbals, timpani, and mallet instruments, which Alex then processed within the accompaniment track for MASKED to create an other-worldly, multi-dimensional sonic experience! You can read more about this, below.
The fiery spirit of conductor Cynthia Johnston Turner was a perfect fit for this challenging piece, and Alex is indebted to her talent and utter enthusiasm in bringing SUSPENDED to life at the National Intercollegiate Band concert on July 13th, 2021 at the DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, MI.
Additionally, heartfelt thanks go to conductor LaToya A. Webb, whose detailed notes taken as she sat with Alex through two and a half days of solid rehearsals were invaluable to the final editing process.
Conductors Tonya Mitchell-Spradlin and Tony Falcone, along with Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma Executive Director Steve Nelson, made the NIB experience go incredibly smoothly. Finally, Alex gives her sincere thanks to the many musicians who arrived from all over the country to premiere this beast of a piece, and launch it into the repertoire!
Where did the idea for the percussion effects in MASKED come from?
The genesis of the ping pong balls harkens back 40 years to 1982, when I was in my third year as a composition major at Manhattan School of Music. John Corigliano was one of our teachers (this was prior to him joining the Juilliard faculty), and he had assigned us all short orchestral pieces to write, for a reading session with a rag-tag group of students. I had two kittens at the time who loved to bat a ping pong ball across the wood floor of my Upper West Side apartment. Inspired by the sound, I composed a piece that made use of the natural acceleration of a dropped ball. The music opened with three separate ping pong balls released to the floor from about 4 feet up, one at a time by three percussionists, followed by a repeated one-note oboe entrance that mimicked the rhythm. Trite as this probably was, John and the rest of us got a laugh out of it, and to this day one of my dear violinist pals who was in that ensemble never lets me live it down!
So, fast-forward to 2020. I had yet to use a ping pong ball in any of my professional pieces, and I knew that I wanted to do so at some point— but not in a predictable way like that accelerando. When I was formulating my plan for this quirky Minuet and Trio movement, I had a sense that the humor of a ping pong ball might be perfect. I emailed my percussionist friend Dave Jarvis to ask him whether if a ping pong ball were dropped onto a timpani head, or a suspended cymbal, or vibes with and without pedal and motor, would it be audible to the audience if I was careful to orchestrate around it. I also asked to hire him to go into his studio and make some quick recordings of these sounds for me on his phone.
Dave was happy to do so, and not only did he record these specific sounds which I use in the track, but he also tossed in the extremely cool sound I use for the opening, of the ball dropped onto an inverted China cymbal atop a timpani head as the pedal is depressed. I decided to have the percussionists do this along with the track, for a psycho-acoustic effect during the performance.
I mapped the sample of the ping pong ball on a bar of the vibes that I had asked Dave to make, across a number of pitches, to be able to trigger them as desired in my DAW. When I started playing around with note combinations and heard the delightful shimmering effect, I realized that it should be psycho-acoustic and that in addition to creating these three-note "fairy chords" I was coming up with that I then ran through processing for the track, I also would have my three mallet players playing them live without processing, for a deeper effect both sonically and visually.
I highly recommend that the timpani and all the mallet instruments are placed as close to the front of the stage as possible, so that the audience can SEE these players dropping the balls. For the premiere, I procured a bunch of neon/brightly colored ones, for the greatest visual effect! They're cheap to find online. I even had mine embossed with a unique graphic celebrating the 2021 NIB premiere, and gave a commemorative ball to every musician in the band. Fun!
THE CONTACT INFO
VERY best way to reach Alex is
through email, by clicking here
can also leave a voice message or a fax (what's THAT?) at: (270) 916-0093, and she'll return your call.
There's a lot more Shapiro band music to hear!
Head on over to THIS PAGE for an overview of Alex's wind band pieces. You can listen to each one, read all about it via a link, and if desired, request a free pdf perusal score. Have fun!
Alex talks to the audience at DeVos Performance Hall
to introduce, SUSPENDED; July 13, 2021.
Join Kappa Kappa Psi editor & host Ryan Smith, for a spirited conversation between Alex Shapiro, and conductor Dr. Cynthia Johnston Turner, as they discuss their collaboration and much more at the Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma National Convention 2021 in Grand Rapids, MI.