Internal Rhythms —1996

Internal Rhythms was commissioned by the West Chester University Percussion Ensemble, Chris Hanning, director, and the University of Delaware Percussion Ensemble, Harvey Price, director. It was premiered at the Northeast Percussive Arts Society Festival in 1997.


  1. delicate ticking
  2. aria clocks
  3. unconditional dance

Program Notes

The ensemble of eight is divided into two groups of four for a practical reason: the piece was written for two university percussion ensembles that would have to rehearse, some of the time, in separate towns (West Chester, PA and Newark, DE). Therefore, each of the two quartets plays large sections of self-contained music that can be rehearsed without the other four players. (Of course, there are significant chunks of music, which require all eight players in the same room at the same time.)

Each movement has two or three sections, which get progressively faster by passing through a metric (or pulse) modulation, like a boat moving through a lock. At these moments of the piece, there is also a color/texture shift from one quartet to the other. For example, in the first movement, the wood quartet presents the rhythmic theme at MM 60 (sixty beats per minute). The metal quartet interrupts, then cuts in, taking the theme at a faster pace (MM 80.) After the metal quartet extends and develops the theme, the woods interrupt and present a short statement of the theme at MM 80. Again, the metals interrupt, driving the pulse up to MM 108. The second movement begins at MM 108 and accelerates to MM 144. The third begins at MM 144 and accelerates to MM 192.

The three movements essentially present the same rhythmic theme in different colors. The first movement utilizes only indefinite pitched metal and wood instruments. The second movement presents a repetition and extension of the rhythms in the first movement using definite pitched metal and wood instruments. In this way, the first two movements present the aural equivalent of non-representational (indefinite pitch) and representational imagery (definite pitch) in visual art. Or, to use another visual metaphor, this process of recasting the same material without and with definite pitches is akin to “color-izing” an image that was originally seen in black and white. The third movement repeats and extends the music of the second, returning to indefinite pitched instruments, all eight players on skins.

The movements are not exact rhythmic repetitions of one another. The increased speed of the tempo in the second movement created a much shorter movement, which seemed in need of filling out once the initial draft had been finished; therefore new phrases developed from the original theme were added into the second movement. Similarly, the increased speed of the third movement provided time and space for further developments, extensions, and diversions.

Much of the writing is imitative, canonic, and even fugal at times; it also includes passages of call and response, and hocketing. The main theme is simple and elemental, and the predominant rhythmic patterns are additive, irregular groupings (often consecutive groups of 1-2-3-4-5, at times reversed or shuffled.)

Although I did not associate specific narratives or emotional states with particular themes or sections, an image I often thought of while working on the beginning of the first movement was that of a wordless, movement ritual.