I made that post on Monday about the “Circus Maximus” concert and how I didn’t know anything about David T. Little’s piece Screamer (in my head, the T is for “Tiberius”). Well, darned if the man himself didn’t contact me with all sorts of interesting information. He also apologizes for his lack of a Wikipedia page (maybe someone can build him one?) and offers instead his own personal web site, davidtlittle.com.
Even if you’re not coming to the concert, I recommend you read the below, reproduced faithfully as it was sent to me. Bet you didn’t know Sousa can be used to distract from blood and death!
SCREAMER! – a three-ring blur for orchestra is a short essay depicting the blurred memory of a circus, explores the wide range of emotions often associated with the big top, ranging from silly humor, to excitement, to suspense and fear. It was composed in Ann Arbor, MI in October and November of 2002, and premiered by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra on February 11th, 2003, conducted by Laura Jackson.
The term “screamer” is one long associated with the American Circus tradition, and can mean one of two things. First, it was the nickname given by circus folk to the steam calliope, the piercingly loud and often out-of-tune instrument used to attract attention to certain areas within the circus, or to provide music for circus parades, announcing its arrival in a new town. The calliope is present in this work thanks to modern sampling technology.
More commonly, however, the term “screamer” refers to circus marches, generally taken at breakneck speed and, in their original circus context, ending abruptly with a B-flat major chord as soon as the action in the ring had concluded. Henry Fillmore’s The Circus Bee, Karl L. King’s Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite and (perhaps most famously) Julius Fulík’s Entry of the Gladiators are classic examples of this genre, which can still be heard today in expanded arrangement for symphonic wind ensemble.
Although John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever, arguably the most famous American march, is not technically a screamer, it was, in fact, used in the circus, and makes a brief appearance in this piece. Essentially, were the tightrope walker to fall, or some other such horror occur, the band would strike up the Sousa as a cue to send in the clowns to distract the audience while the medics tended to the injured performer.
It is from this somewhat warped perspective (combined with vivid memories of clowns from Tim Burton films) that I began my work, imagining a circus out of control, doing my best to combine the best of the light and dark elements that the circus had to offer in the form of six micro-movements, including: Screaming! – Ponies! – Clown Car Mayhem! – The Coulrophobic* Tightrope! – Big Top Falling! (homage à C.E.I) – Again, Screaming!
SCREAMER! is dedicated to William Bolcom.
– David T. Little,
January 5, 2010
*Coulrophobia: The Fear of Clowns
Hailed as a “grand-scale thinker” by the NJ Star Ledger, David T. Little writes music that “completely gripped” New Yorker critic Alex Ross: “every bad-ass new-music ensemble in the city will want to play him.” Performed widely—Dresden, Edinburgh, Boston, LA, Montreal, and at the Tanglewood, Aspen, MATA and Cabrillo Festivals, and by such groups as eighth blackbird, So Percussion, ensemble courage, Newspeak, the London Sinfonietta, NOW Ensemble, Grand Rapids Symphony, and The New York City Opera—Little’s work fuses classical and popular idioms to dramatic effect. His music has received awards and recognition from Tanglewood, Aspen, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Harvey Gaul Competition, BMI, and ASCAP, and has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, the Albany Symphony, Gallery I-20, the New World Symphony, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and the University of Michigan, in honor of the 125th anniversary of the School of Music.
An active drummer in New York, Little performs regularly with his ensemble Newspeak, and with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). He holds degrees from Susquehanna University, The University of Michigan and Princeton University–where he is currently completing a PhD in composition—and currently teaches music in New York through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program. His primary teachers have included Osvaldo Golijov, Steven Mackey, Paul Lansky, William Bolcom, and Michael Daugherty. Upcoming projects include the opera Dog Days (in-progress) with librettist Royce Vavrek, new works for violist Nadia Sirota, pianist Kathleen Supové, cellist Brian Snow, Third Coast Percussion, the New World Symphony, and Newspeak, and performances by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop.