A heart-felt tribute to a dearly departed friend, Touch the Sky is a percussion octet which takes listeners on an emotional journey. Led by a featured violin, the work features memorable melodies and is appropriate for an upper-level high school or college ensemble.
Genre: Soloist(s) with Percussion Ensemble | # of Players: 8 + violin
Level: Medium | Duration: 7:00
Marimba 1 (4-octave)
Marimba 2 (4-octave)
Marimba 3 (5-octave)
Percussion 1 (Small Suspended Cymbal, Doumbek, Tambourine, Mark Tree)
Percussion 2 (2 Triangles, Large Suspended Cymbal, Riq [or small tambourine])
Touch the Sky was commissioned by Kurt Gartner, Professor of Percussion at Kansas State University, and the KSU Percussion Studio in memory of Andrew Abdayem, a fellow studio member and friend of mine who passed away in early 2016. Andrew had Myasthenia Gravis, a rare neuro-muscular and auto-immune disease that affects all voluntary muscles including the diaphragm, which affects the ability to breathe. Unfortunately, there is no cure and sufferers frequently must live their lives in constant pain.
The work’s title is taken from a quote by a 13th-century Persian poet named Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi: “only from your heart can you touch the sky.” Musically, the piece begins with the pitch “A” being stated as a reference to Andrew’s initials. The initial key signature is A major as an additional homage to Andrew. After a descending vibraphone melody, the solo violin emerges from the percussive texture for a brief cadenza before the work “takes off.” This is initiated by a doumbek, or Middle-Eastern goblet drum, which I included as a nod to Andrew’s Lebanese heritage. The main melody is first established in the violin and passes around the ensemble in various forms. Underpinning this is a chord progression which emphasizes A major-B minor-D major-A major-E major, which are the letters in Andrew’s last name which can be set to Western chords.
Eventually, the music segues into a quicker, more “flighty” section in B Mixolydian mode, where new melodic ideas are again stated by the vioin and passed around the ensemble. This section also includes a riq, a Middle Eastern version of the tambourine, as additional references to Andrew’s heritage. The music gradually ramps up in volume and activity and, after a quick back-and-forth between the violin and ensemble, soon returns to the musical textures from the beginning. This time the violin plays the melody previously stated by the vibraphone, and after another brief cadenza the work ends with a series of A major chords, again referring to Andrew’s initials. Each statement gets ever more sparse until the entire ensemble ends playing two unison A’s.