Chester Leaps In is intended as a humorous, cartoonish piece, contructed from the juxtaposition of two divergent musical ideas: a chromatic, angular melodic motive, repeatedly interrupted by the harmonic simplicity of William Billings’ well-known hymn tune, “Chester.”
This is the original incarnation of the piece, scored for two marimbas and piano, and was created in 1994 while I was a graduate student at the University of North Texas. I remember walking around the campus with the first fragment of “Chester” incessantly repeating in my head. At first it was just below the level of consciousness, but eventually I could no longer ignore it, and knew I had to exorcise it in some fashion.
At the same time, I was playing with a silly-sounding motive (which is now the opening of the piece) – one of those many fragments of music that I toy with, never intending to let anyone else hear it. These ideas are the equivalent of doodling with pencil and paper while talking on the phone – not intended as Anything of Significance. Sometimes, however, that’s the best way to let the subconscious do its work without impedance from the internal critic of the trained, conscious mind. In this case, I was stuck on another piece (which eventually became Loose Id for brass quintet and percussion), and needed something fun as a diversion. Over the course of five consecutive afternoons, Chester Leaps In was born in its entirety, almost completely by accident. It wasn’t until the fourth day or so that I admitted to myself this was actually going to be a complete piece of music, and that I would let others hear it. A few months later the piece was premiered, but it wasn’t until the following year, while at Juilliard, that my friend and fellow composer Eric Whitacre suggested transcribing it for band. In retrospect, this seems an obvious evolution of the piece, given the familiarity of the original tune in the band community.
Premiered Spring, 1995, University of North Texas
Gisela Mendez, piano
Ed Stephan, marimba
Michael Stewart, marimba
Marimba I – II