Nature Variations



Commissioned by trombonist Aden Brooks for his senior recital at Eastman School of Music.

I’ve known Aden since 2003. We went to high school together and he’s been the trombonist of both bands I’ve fronted. And although Aden studied classical trombone performance, he’s always had a great fondness for jazz. So when he commissioned a piece from me, I had one question for him: What’s your favorite jazz tune? “Nature Boy,” he replied. What luck; “Nature Boy” is one of my favorites too.

Nature Variations is a series of 7 short variations on the “Nature Boy” melody:
1) Indeterminacy
2) Improvisation
3) Topography
4) Integral Serialism
5) Chance Operations
6) Letter-Pitch Substitution: Elegy
7) Multiphonics

Each of these variations is distinct in that, as their names suggest, they are based on either a different style of composition or performance technique.

There is also one “Interruption,” the lyrics of “Nature Boy” alphabetized, which are to be read as a list as fast as possible. This section may interrupt the performance of any variation in progress. The performance may choose to read any part of the list in the order written and may repeat sections of the list if multiple interruptions are performed. Any or all of the variations + interruption in any order and may repeat sections if desired. Some of the sections have indeterminate elements, and so multiple repetitions may result in vastly different performances.

The form of the work reminds me a bit of Earle Brown’s “Open Form” scores, although Nature Variations is to be performed without a conductor and there’s a Kagel-esque game-like quality about the piece, given the inclusion of the “Interruption” and the performance techniques involved in some of the variations.

The program notes from the premiere performance read:

Nature Variations, for solo trombone, is a set of seven variations and one interruption. Knowing Aden’s penchant for jazz music, I asked him what his favorite tune is. He replied, “Nature Boy”. Thus, each section is based on this melody. The variations are based on different compositional styles and performance techniques, and are titled as follows: Indeterminacy, Improvisation, Topography, Integral Serialism, Chance Operations, Letter-Pitch Substitution: Elegy, and Multiphonics. The variations may be performed out of order and repeated as desired. Additionally, I’ve written an Interruption, which, as the name suggests, may interrupt any variation in progress. Altogether, the work is inherently disjointed and does not call for a continuity. In fact, the performer is invited to add to the unstable nature of the work by interpreting the graphic notation contained in some of the variations as well as spontaneously selecting which sections will be performed. The form of the work is reminiscent of the Open Form works of Earle Brown, which were themselves inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder. Much like those mobiles, Nature Variations aims to present a set of self-contained sections that can weave in and out of each other, linked only by the Interruption, a device which is itself akin to the eye of the mobile-viewer rapidly shifting focus from piece to piece.