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A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Music, Major: Music, Under the Supervision of Professor Eric Richards. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2011

Copyright David von Kampen 2011


High Water Mark is a five-movement suite for jazz octet, inspired by the poetry of David Shumate, from his collection of the same name. The piece is scored for trumpet (doubling flugelhorn), alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trombone, male vocalist (without words), piano, bass, and drums. Although this instrumentation would generally be considered a small jazz group (as opposed to a big band), the piece is written in the spirit of a larger ensemble. The essence of small-group jazz is spontaneous creativity, interaction and improvisation. Although improvised solos appear in every movement of this piece, it is better considered as a work for "little big band," where composition, arrangement and orchestration are the primary means of musical expression.
"Tornado" portrays a man's personal turmoil with an aggressive pedal-tone ostinato in the piano and bass, paired with a driving rock groove in the drums. The horns play jagged, angular figures mixed with winding lines that depict the path of destruction. "The Blue Period" is a representation of a washed-out world where everything is the color blue. A trombone solo slips in and out of dissonant harmony over a slow, bluesy swing feel. Near the end of the movement, a drastic texture changes depicts the arrival of Shumate's "woman in yellow boots" stepping off the train. "Lifesaving" describes a strange connection between two people after a near-death experience. An eerie, flowing piano line is doubled by the alto saxophone before giving way to a driving straight-8ths groove that builds to a climax before fading away. "Passing Through a Small Town," uses a heavy, straight-ahead swing feel and a fragmented, piano-driven melody to depict a man's experiences in a rural town he travels through. The final movement, "High Water Mark," keys on the narrator's desire to "drift downstream and see where I end up" after a flood. An up-tempo groove employs quarter-note triplets to morph into a gently swinging 6/8 finale as the poet drifts away.

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