Eclipse originally started off as a work for concert band. I started the first movement sometime in 2011. I hit a crippling writer's block about halfway through the piece, so I just abandoned it to work on other pieces. The file just stayed in the depths of my hard drive for many months, waiting to be revived.
Around the summer of 2013, Dr. Martha Placeres came to me for an idea of a new piece she wanted me to write. (I love these 'writing prompts'. They really get my brain going.) She said she wanted me to write a piece that would have strings and electronics. I knew I could make it happen, so I started brainstorming. And then I remembered about Eclipse in its original form. I dug it out of my hard drive and started working on it. I created piano reductions so that I could re-orchestrate everything.
At the same point in time, the Chair of the Music Department, Dr. Tom Nevill, created an iPad initiative to incorporate iPads into the music curriculum. On the first day of school, all of the students in applied lessons received iPads. I knew that I could incorporate them with this revived version of Eclipse and really make a piece unique. I told Drs. Nevill and Placeres about my ideas, and they agreed to have it done. I would use sounds and instruments from Garageband for iPad in real time to be played with the strings'. I worked laboriously to marry the electronics with the strings. On paper, I think it worked out quite nicely. And then reality hit me like a train.
So fast-forward to two weeks before the premiere. The strings are playing their parts, but we hadn't had rehearsals with the electronics people nor had I finished the piece. Yeah. Two weeks before the premiere and I hadn't finished the piece. I can't think of any other time that I was scrambling like that as a composer and conductor. [Side note: Oh, wait. There was that one time (later that semester) when I was trying to revise my Christmas Concerto for Orchestra and Chorus in time for the premiere at the annual Heralding the Holidays Christmas Concert. But you can read all about that later.] I was rehearsing and conducting that piece. But I couldn't get past another writer's block to finish it. I stayed up many nights and slept so little over the next two weeks to try and pull something off. It was in that moment that I pushed myself too far. I couldn't think, and I was trying to pull off the impossible. I finally finished the piece with a little bit of help from a friend, Jason Whitney. He's a choir director in the valley, but he's also a producer and an awesome rocker. He created a track called "The Muse" on his Soundcloud that I had adored for months. I knew that would be my out. I bought the song and its rights for $75. I used the track to write string parts over. It all worked nicely. On paper. At long last, I finished the piece about a week before the premiere. So then I had to worry about putting together an ensemble for the electronic parts.
I put together a group on Facebook for people that said they'd be interested in performing. I had enough people, but we did not have enough time for a rehearsal with the strings. It was my worst nightmare as a composer and a conductor. In the time before the concert, I gave a rundown of what was supposed to happen to everyone involved. Right before the piece started, and everyone walked onto stage, I could feel my heart beating in my ears. I know that if we pulled this off, all the stress was worth it.
The performance did not go as planned. There were a few electronic mishaps. Some of the strings got lost. I'm pretty sure I messed up some of the conducting due to all the mental stress I was experiencing. I had never been more nervous in my life. The ten-and-a-half minute-long piece simultaneously flew by and dragged on for what felt like forever. The first movement was over, and most things had gone decently. When the second movement started, I felt a shift to good energy as I knew the strings enjoyed that section. The electronics were almost entirely lost. There was such a weird hodgepodge of emotion across the ensemble, and I didn't even know how I felt. I tried my best to steer my ship. At the end of the piece, I cut off the performer in the balcony. Appropriately, it was Iris (haha). Since I was facing the audience to cut her off, I let out a subtle sigh and let down my arms to be met with an applause. I knew what went wrong in the piece. I felt so disappointed in myself for letting things get to that point. I felt like I let everyone down.
Since that point, I haven't returned to revive Eclipse. I'm not sure if I will. Maybe since I've composed Perigee-Syzygy, I can return to it because I have a better understanding of how to incorporate electronics. I don't know what I'll do with the piece. Perhaps I'll just leave it the way it is in my memory as a reminder to never do that again.
December 2017 Update: The second performance of Eclipse took place at the Washburn International Chamber Music Festival in April 2017 by the baton of Dr. Martha Placeres. This performance completely changed my perception of the work. It was everything that I wanted it to be when I first thought of it in 2011. I have been inspired again to work on it again, perhaps in a different light.
Program Notes: Eclipse is a work that expresses my love for space. The piece is separated in two parts: Luna, and Sol. While open chords symbolize the vastness of empty space, dense chords and rhythms symbolize the intricate systems at the heart of galaxies. Luna, signifying the lunar eclipse, is as pacific as the darkest night. As the material in the strings gains momentum, the dense chords bloom into the climax to depict the blood-red moon catching the sunlight opposite of Earth. After the music dissipates, an ethereal bridge transports the listener back to the serene nature of the lunar eclipse. The cello solo expresses a meditative tone before the impending doom. In a quick motion, the atmosphere changes as the listener is taken to pre-historic times during the event of a solar eclipse. The fast passages create tension and build until the majestic and dissonant climax of the second half. The climax dissipates as quickly as it built as the moon moves to let pre-historic humans witness the sun's light once again. A final cluster chord in the strings and electronics brings the chaotic solar eclipse to a calm aftermath for the coda. Eclipse ends with a reflective tone. Maybe pre-historic peoples asked themselves why the moon would consume the sun to cast a shadow over the Earth. I wanted to capture this sentiment as the music fades away into the distance.
Instrumentation: violin 1 (div), violin 2 (div), viola (div), cello (div), double bass, 7 iPads (with garageband - instrument names are on the parts)