Over the hills and far away
A long way to go... to find some ducks
Written for a more flexible (concert-band-y) line up of wind instruments, these are fun little 'overture' pieces that each playfully refuse to finish what they begin!
I have written three separate program notes for this piece. Choose the one which best suits your audience, and how much ‘explanation’ of the music you think they will benefit from. The aim is to strike the right balance between intelligibility and surprise, which will look different in different contexts...
Program note #1
Over the hills and far away is a story driven by an unlikely hope. Its title sounds light-hearted, but the music itself, for much of its 16-minute duration, does not.
It is a perilous adventure, a labyrinth of musical variations on a hidden theme that only gradually unravels to reveal itself. Follow it carefully! As more and more instruments pile into the mix, one by one, it can be hard to see any way out. Led into the dark unknown, you may start to wonder...
What is over the hills and far away? An endless path? A loop back to where we started? Nothing at all?
© David John Lang 2015
Program note #2
Are we here? Everyone?
The pond is full of ducks.
Oboe solo: Mother Duck dreams of over the hills and far away.
Whole band: All the ducklings dream of over the hills and far away.
Three notes from a muted trumpet: The smallest duckling waddles off to find the way there. The others follow, one by one. Soon they are all going. Soon they are all lost.
Oboe solo: But Mother Duck thinks she’s found the way. She quacks, and one by one the ducklings come waddling over the hills. Soon they are all coming. Soon they are all here.
Everyone. Here we are. Except...
The pond is empty.
Piano solo: Maybe it was only a dream.
Oboe solo: But then Mother Duck quacks, and there is an echo....
© David John Lang 2015
Program note #3
What is over the hills and far away?
An endless path? A loop back to where we started? Nothing at all?
Let’s find out. On this adventure are 33 musicians on 33 instruments, and they start by playing 33 notes. That’s our ‘theme’, but it doesn’t sound right, does it? We need to find a new one.
Here’s a pond. Floating across the deep (11 bass notes and a timpani roll) are 21 ducklings, quacking rather randomly. We’re all in this together.
An oboe solo – it’s Mother Duck! She’s dreaming of over the hills and far away. Then everyone is dreaming of over the hills and far away. But dreaming won’t get us anywhere...
Time for the adventure! A muted trumpet ‘quacks’ three times and waddles off to find the way. Three notes? Is that the way to a better theme? The other instruments follow, one by one, and each adds its own three notes to the muted trumpet’s tune. The theme gets more and more complicated. By the time everyone has joined in, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t going to work: our new theme is just a nonsensical string of 96 notes. (Is someone missing?) A tam-tam crash washes away the mess and everyone disappears.
... Except the oboe – it’s Mother Duck again! She quacks out the 96-note-theme quickly by herself and waddles off. Where is she going? One by one the instruments return, but in the opposite order (‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’). And this time they each remove three notes – three different notes. And our theme becomes clearer and clearer as everyone joins in. In fact, it reminds me of something...
Aha! Everyone is back, and here is the theme! You know this tune! There is something over the hills and far away! But wait. Something is wrong. The theme fades away and the last note is... missing.
We’re back at the pond, but now no one is floating across deep. All is dark. All is empty. The piano plays an elegy. It was only a dream. It was only...
... but then Mother Duck quacks... and there is an echo!
© David John Lang 2015
This work is intended for one player per part: the 33 onstage musicians match the 33 notes of the theme. However, some parts may be doubled if deemed necessary for practical reasons. Any spare or extra players should be a used to play the offstage rubber ducks.
All players may ‘opt out’ of the music for breaks at any point in which their part seems fairly redundant – particularly in the loud tutti passages when big groups are playing in unison. Players are to be encouraged to play everything that’s written, obviously, but have my permission to ‘save their chops’ as required, so long as they don’t make it obvious.
The offstage rubber ducks can be any rubber duck toys that squeak – these are easy and cheap to buy in bulk online. The best quality rubber duck should be in the hands of the 4th trumpet player, whose solo in bar 20 is vitally important. But all the rubber ducks should be hidden from the audience until their use in the final bars of the piece, where they should appear all around – or perhaps even throughout – the audience, surprising everyone.
The 4th trumpet player is required to sneak off stage at around bar 527, by which point there should be enough onstage activity from the other musicians to disguise their exit. Their absence should suddenly become obvious to the audience at bar 578. When the 4th trumpet plays again at bar 593, they should be in a prominent position separate from the main ensemble, and ideally high up: eg. in a gallery or organ loft. They should be visible to the audience, although not necessarily near the stage – as long as they play in time!
The 4th trumpet part is more demanding than the first three trumpet parts. But, as a proud bottom-trumpet-part player myself, I want to discourage the shuffling around of chairs to give this part to the principal player – let the 4th player have a chance to shine if they are up to the challenge!
The timpani part is fairly virtuosic. I have written it for six timpani (or five timpani and an upturned bass drum) to minimise the pedal changes, but I understand that sometimes that number of workable timpani may not be available. In that case, I leave the distribution and changing of pitches to the timpanist’s discretion – it is OK to compromise a little by using fixed pitches and the ‘close enough’ mentality that many composers adopted before the 20th century!
Staccato crotchets (or ‘quarter-notes’ for you Americans) are used for ease of reading in the main body of the piece. Overly- conscientious musicians in the ensemble need to refrain from trying to make them sound any longer than the staccato quavers (‘eighth-notes’) that surround them. There should be no noticeable difference in articulation or duration.
Over the hills and far away was first performed by the Adelaide Wind Orchestra, conducted by the composer, on 12th December 2015 at Concordia College Chapel, Highgate, SA, Australia.
This is music is available to