A0274-CD: A Field of Scarecrows

A Field of Scarecrows - John Kenny Trombone  George Nicholson Piano

CD CoverA Field of Scarecrows is dedicated to the memory of the English composer Paul Keenan, who died in 2004. Paul and I had been friends for since we met in the Birmingham School Symphony Orchestra in 1972. Paul was an outstanding clarinettist but also a quite exceptional composer, who achieved his mature identity before the age of twenty, and then continued to work on a small number of exquisite and highly complex scores for the rest of his life. He never achieved – or sought – commercial success, and he died having heard only a small part of his music. The title track of this album was the last piece he wrote for me, and it is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and extraordinary pieces ever composed for trombone and piano.

My duo partner on this album is the pianist composer George Nicholson, with whom I had already intended to release an album of new works for trombone and piano, featuring George’s own massive Muybridge Frames. Indeed, this was the original title of the album – but with Paul’s approaching death we both agreed that we would re-name the album, as a tribute to Paul. My dear friend John Purser contributed a new Sonata as the opening work of the album; my own short piece Bleaklow Fragment is a personal memento of a day in the Derbyshire Peaks spent with Paul when we were students.

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Audio Samples & Track Listing

Track Listing

  1. Sonata for Trombone & Piano - 14'31 (John Purser)
  2. Scarecrows - Improvisation No.2 - 1'45 (Kenny / Nicholson)
  3. Umbra/Penumbra - 7'20 (George Nicholson)
  4. A Field of Scarecrows - 23'51 (Paul Keenan)
  5. Bleaklow Fragment - 4'09 (John Kenny)
  6. Muybridge Frames - 22'09 (George Nicholson)

CD Notes & Credits

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1 Sonata for Trombone & Piano John Purser

This Sonata for Trombone & Piano was commissioned by John Kenny with the financial support of the Hope Scott Trust. It is a single movement with a single tempo throughout. I have always thought of the trombone as a vocal instrument and this piece gives it long melodic lines, notably in the opening theme. However, it can also be immensely powerful and aggressive, and when the piano follows with a tune of unashamed innocence, the trombone begins to express disquiet. This, in turn, affects the piano and leads into a mechanical and unyielding section, with the piano building on an inexorable walking bass line, and the trombone becoming rhythmically active and aggressive. At the climax of this section, the opening theme returns on the trombone, asserting its greater power, which both instruments then discuss more thoughtfully. In the final section, the piano repeats its innocent tune without interruption and, in a gentle solo, the trombone reaches a mood in which it can close the work, playing the same tune it earlier rejected. From this it distills its own innocence - a simple descending major arpeggio which echoes the basic acoustic laws upon which all lip reed instruments depend.  I have dedicated this piece to my son, Sean, as it reflects both his strength and his gentleness. John Purser

Premiered by John Kenny & George Nicholson at the Woodend Barn Arts Centre, Banchory on 27.4.02

2 Scarecrows - Improvisation No.2 with Alto Trombone & Piano

In the centre of Paul Keenan’s A Field of Scarecrows (track 4 on this CD), there is an improvised duo for piano and alto trombone. This is the only time that Paul had ever included a free improvisation in any of his pieces - he was a composer who exerted enormous time and intellectual energy in his endeavours to express, minutely and accurately, what he wanted his performers to achieve. However, on this occasion, he has allowed the two performers time to consider, to reflect and distil the implications of the piece in which they are immersed, and to make a personal response to that moment in time. When George Nicholson and I came to record the piece, we simply recorded three versions of the improvisation, without prior discussion. As it turned out, it was our first version which has been included in the track four recording on this CD - hopefully you, the listener, will find this second version interesting in its own right.  John Kenny

3 Umbra/Penumbra George Nicholson

This short work was written during the summer of 2002 as a memorial to Paul Keenan. In the course of the piece, the tessitura of the piano writing expands to encompass the extreme registers of the instrument, while the trombone plays almost exclusively in the middle register. However the trombone writing is highly coloured, demanding from the player, a number of extended techniques, including some borrowed from the didgeridoo (circular breathing and timbral shifts). The piece also draws on the resource of false ’or lip’ harmonics, those fascinating multiphonic sound complexes that can be activated between the true partials of the trombone’s overtone series. Paul Keenan made a detailed analytical study of this acoustic phenomenon, and developed much of this later harmonic thinking from the natural structures he discovered there. George Nicholson.

4 A Field of Scarecrows - Alto + Tenor Trombone with Piano Paul Keenan

Imagine riding a motor bike down a long, leafy country lane’ Paul said to me. ‘What can you hear?’ Immediately, I recognised a parallel with the sound of trombone muitiphonics, but I was wrong to think of Doppler effects. Paul was not thinking of sounds gone by, but of those tiny ‘bites’ immediately beside the ear - bird song, snap of twig, crunch of weight on gravel, nearby stream, wood doves, wind-whipped at speed. ‘Imagine the ear as a camera’ he said, ‘snapping each fraction of present time as you travel. I think the effect would be destabilising. That is what I am trying to write.’

The original idea for A Field of Scarecrows came from a dream, in which scarecrows were dancing in a summer field full of hay bales. Paul abruptly stopped the car one day and jumped out excitedly. ‘This is it, Jane!’ he said. ‘This is my field of scarecrows.’ I gazed in amazement across the golden stubble, so still in the sunshine. Not a sound nor a scarecrow in sight.

Perhaps the contrast of these images accounts for the lyrical delicacy and disembodied eeriness which can be heard simultaneously in the music. Paul was later to remark a chillier foreshadowing - he could hear his illness, which must also have been present, undiagnosed at the time of writing. Yet this is the piece that discovered muitiphonics in the birdsong upon which it is based, and the only piece into which Paul incorporated improvisation and the spoken word. These’ elements consciously pay tribute to the musicians for whom it was written; the ‘field’ of the title being a harmonic field. And the scarecrows? All in the mind’s ear.  Jane Keenan, Paxton Dene, 21 July 2002

A Field of Scarecrows was commissioned by John Kenny with the financial Support of the Scottish Arts Council and premiered by John Kenny & George Nicholson at Edinburgh Napier University 11 November 1998

The text spoken by the trombonist in A Field at Scarecrows is from the poem known as The Ruin, which appears in the great collection of Anglo Saxon verse known as The Exeter Book.

And the wielders and wrights? ....  Earthgrip holds them ... gone, long gone, fast in gravesgrasp - while fifty fathers .... asnd sons .... have passed .... Wall stood, grey lichen, red stone, kings fell often, stood under storms, high arch crashed - stands yet the wallstone, hacked by weapons, by files grim-ground .... shone the old skilled work .... sank to loam-crust ....  Mood quickened mind, and a man of wit, cunning in rings, bound bravely the wallbase with iron, a wonder .... Bright were the buildings, halls where springs ran, high, horngabled, much throng-noise; these many meadhalls men filled with loud cheerfulnes: Wierd changed that .... Came days of pestilence, on all sides men fell dead, death fetched off the flower of the people where they stood to fight .... waste places, and on the acropolis, ruins ....Hosts who would build again shrank to the earth. Therefore are these courts dreary, and that red arch twisteth tiles. Wryeth from root-ridge, reacheth groundwards . ..... Broken blocks ...... There once many a man, mood­glad, goldbrigfrt, of gleams garnished, flushed with wine-pride, tlashing war-gear, gazed on wrought gemstones, on gold, on silver, on wealth held and hoarded, on light-filled amber, on this bright burg of broad dominion.

5 Bleaklow Fragment  John Kenny

After the death of anyone close to us, the mind is flooded with memories like snap-shots in a mental album; or scenes from a film that we somehow seem to have been a part of - sensations of a reality that we long to touch, but which lie just beyond our grasp. Often these seem as waking dreams. One such image of my long friendship with Paul centres on a midwinter day in the late 70’s when we set out together to climb Bleaklow Hill, in the Peak District. Dark and forbidding at the best of times, on that day an icy mist swirled in uneven strata, making rocks and stunted bushes appear to float in mid air. All sound was muffled, our vaporous breath hanging about us, we lost all sense of direction and began to worry about the approaching darkness.

Suddenly the air cleared, as if a giant hand had wiped condensation off a mirror. We realised we had reached the summit. Below us in the near distance we could see nothing but a sea of white mist and above, the deep, deep blue twilight sky; and far away, the faint aurora of an unseen great city. We sat in silence and listened to a stillness that throbbed, not needing to say anything, but sharing a timeless moment of deep empathy. I never told Paul, but I picked up a fragment of rock on top of Bleaklow that day, which I kept with me for years - a shard of something ancient, rugged, glistening mica -not as a talisman, but as a reminder of a sense of 'rightness’, which seemed to contain an important personal truth. It was a reminder of friendship.

When I came to write this piece, I closed my eyes and let my mind’s eye wander through the memory of the scene - and the music simply wrote itself.    John Kenny

6 Muybridge Frames George Nicholson

This piece was written in 1992 in response to John Kenny’s request for a substantial large-scale concert work for trombone and piano. It developed from two points of departure, both drawn from early photographic imagery. The celebrated 1917 publicity photograph of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band is a startling trick shot in which two brass players appear to perform from inside the open grand piano - the slide of Eddie Edward’s trombone projects over the end of the keyboard. I began to consider the possibility of musical situations in which the sound of the trombone would effectively be initiated by the piano, and vice versa, and the question of to what extent the identities of the two instruments could merge.

I was also interested in composing a work in which the two players would, to a large extent, develop separate discourses. Here, the early motion photography of Eadweard Muybridge provided a useful stimulus which led directly to the formulation of the framing device of the title.

Just as Muybridge, in his Animal Locomotion collection of 1887 presented movement in disaete photographic images (allowing people to see for themselves whether or not a galloping horse did in fact momentarily lose contact with the ground!), so I imagined certain points in the piece, in which the developing relationship, between the two musical discourses would become explicit, as in the freeze frame. In the most extreme situations there is either synchronicity or autonomy, and at other moments one or other instrument appears to initiate, while the other follows.

The work is laid out in one continuous movement in five sections, representing a single cycle of possibilities, departing from synchronicity and then returning to it in the final section. George Nicholson

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John Purser (b. 1942)

John Purser’s works cover a wide range, from a television opera The Undertaker to a Prelude and Toccata for solo guitar. Among many orchestral works, Epitaph 1916 and The Stone of Destiny are best known. His chamber music includes a cello sonata, a violin sonata and a string quartet. John is also the author of several radio plays, three books of poetry and an award-winning radio series of 30 ninety minute episodes, Scotland’s Music He lectures and broadcasts extensively on the history of Scottish Music and on music archaeology. He is currently learning Gaelic on the Island of Skye, where he lives and works his own croft.

George Nicholson (b. 1949)

George Nicholson was born in County Durham and studied at the University of York with David Blake and Bernard Rands, receiving his Doctorate in Composition in 1q79. For ten years he pursued a freelance career in London before being appointed Lecturer in Music and Director of Composition at Keels University in 1988. In January 1996 he took up the post of Senior Lecturer in Composition at Sheffield University and now directs the University of Sheffield New Music Ensemble. He is a keen pianist and conductor, is a founder member of the chamber groups Triple Echo and Nomos, and also gives regular recitals with his wife, the soprano Jane Ginsborg.

His list of works include a flute concerto, commissioned and premiered in 1994 in Zurich by James Galway; a cello concerto for Moray Welsh, and a chamber concerto, both commissioned by the BBC; three string quartets; the orchestral song cycle Blisworth Tunnel Blues, The Convergence of the Twain and 1132 for Chamber Orchestra, and a variety of chamber works, vocal pieces and piano music.

His works are published by the University of York Music Press and Warwick Music. A number of pieces have been recorded on the Metier label, including Letters to the World, Peripheral Visions, and String Quartet No.3, & the melodrama The arrival of the poet in the city, written in collaboration with Christopher Logue, is included in a seven CD boxed set Audiologue, of Logue’s work available from Unknown Public.

Paul Keenan (1956-2001)

Paul Keenan was born in Birmingham. He studied composition with Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music, and privately with Bill Hopkins, in whose memory he wrote a guitar duo (1981, extended in 1984). with funds made available by North West Arts. This was performed by the Aguado Duo as part of the Contemporary Music Circuit 1984. Funded by the British Council, it later toured India, Syria, Hong Kong and Australia.

Paul’s Concerto for Groups of Instruments (1977) won the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize, and his Music for Wood & Strings for solo violin (1978) was awarded the silver medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, but the most important work of this period was The Ruin, part 1(1976-9) for two voices and fourteen instruments. Set to part of an Anglo-Saxon poem, The Ruin is a double time refraction’ and evokes the strong, though not specific, sense of place which permeates all Paul's later compositions. Its development can be heard most clearly in squaring xlvii for trombone, soprano, percussion and electronics (1996-7), set to Seamus Heaney’s poem, with the poet’s kind permission. More subtly, the beating wings of swans in flights are woven into Palimpset for soprano and ensemble (1992-5), while Comet Hale-Bopp for forty three musicians in three groups with taped electronics (1997-8), charts the myriad and silent journey of the comet’s radiance.

Paul worked for a time as a woodwind teacher in County Durham, and as a conservation worker in North Norfolk. He moved to the Scottish Borders in 1988 and in 1992 began a Ph.D in composition, supervised by Nigel Osborne at Edinburgh University. Here he spent long hours in the physics department conducting spectral analyses of trombone ‘lip’ multiphonics. The musical ideas thus generated proved, like a rainbow, to have no end.

Paul’s research broadened, his analyses of birdsong yielding the structure for A Field of Scarecrows. It also attracted interest from Border Television, where film director Peter Chapman was fascinated by the overlap between art and science.. A documentary about Paul’s work, which included a complete performance of Cloudscapes (piano, clarinet, violin and cellO, 1996) was broadcast in 1998, This covered how his research ‘fed into’ his compositional techniques, and explored the relationship between his music and the natural world.

In July 1999, Paul was diagnosed with multiple melonoma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow. His last completed work, I Quattro Libri del’ Architettura for string quartet and electronics (2000) is a musical ‘map’ of Paston House and its grounds, Berwickahire - one of the most perfect examples of neo-Palladian architecture in existence.

In the light of his relapse in March 2001, his final, unfinished sketches are particularly poignant. Setting a poem by Thomas Wyatt, he says: "Forget not yet the tried intent Of such a truth as I had meant My great travail so gladly spent Forget not yet...” Paul died at home on the 26th June 2001.

John Kenny (b 1957)

John Kenny was born in Birmingham. Internationally recognised for his interpretation of contemporary music, he also performs jazz and early music, As a composer, he is particularly active in collaborations with dance and theatre, and his love of theatre is often an important feature of his recital output. Past commissions have included the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, The International Trombone Association, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, Chamber Group of Scotland, Dance Umbrella, American Drama Group Europe, The New Haven International Festival of Arts & Ideas (USA) & the Festival d’ Angers, France.

After studying with Harold Nash at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and then on an Arts Council bursary with James Fulkerson, Kenny worked as an actor/musician with the Bubble Theatre in London, then made his debut as a soloist in the Purcell Room in 1982, In 1983 he was a prize-winner at the Gaudeamus International Competition in Holland, and has since given recitals and broadcast world-wide.

In 1983 John Kenny was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, and is currently a professor at both the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, where he specialises in the interpretation of contemporary music, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, where he focuses on sackbut and the interpretation of early music.

In 1992 he was invited to join a team of specialists at the National Museum of Scotland committed to reconstruct the Deskford Carnyx. Discovered in Northeast Scotland, this is the finest example so far discovered of an Iron Age Celtic War horn, which was the most splendid and powerful wind instrument of the ancient world. In 1993 he became the first person to play the Carnyx for 2000 years, and has since lectured and performed on the instrument internationally, in the concert hail, and on radio, television and film. There are now numerous compositions for the Carnyx and it features on seven CDs. John lives In Edinburgh with his wife and two sons.


All the music on this CD is published by Warwick Music, 1 Broomfield Road, Earlsdon, Coventry, CV5 6JW
Tel: +44 (0)24 7671 2081 Fax: +44 (0)24 7671 2550
info@warwickmusic.com www.warwickmusic.com

Details of John Kenny’s compositions, recordings and his work in music archaeology can be found at www.carnyxscotland.co.uk

The recordings on this CD could not have been made without the financial support of the Scottish Arts Council, and also of the Hope Scott Trust, who kindly commissioned John Purser’s Sonata.

John Kenny performs and records on Conn 88h tenor and Conn 36h alto trombones.

The recordings on this CD could not have been made without the financial support oft he Scottish Arts Council, and also of the Hope Scott Trust who kindly commissioned John Purser's Sonata.

Our thanks also to the Woodend Barn Arts Centre, Banchory, for enabling us to rehearse and give the world premiere of John Purser’s Sonata, in preparation for this recording. We are grateful also to the Edinburgh University Music Department for allowing us to record in the Reid Concert Hall, and particularly to Brian Hamilton, the servitor who sat up all through two long hight to enable us to get the job done to an impossible schedule and also to Philip Stokes and Chris Wheeler for their tireless patience and good humour on those long sessions.

John Kenny plays exclusively on Conn Trombones.

This CD was originally titled Muybridge Frames, however, since Paul Keenan’s death, the title has been changed to A Field of Scarecrows, in Paul Keenan’s memory.

Cover Picture by Mary Kenny

Recorded @ Reid Concert Hall
Edinburgh University Music Department

Recording Engineer: Philip Stokes (Schoeps CCM2II8 M&S)

Session Producer: Chris Wheeler

Editing Producer: John Kenny

Editing & Mastering: Mike Skeet Studio 44, 01908 502836

CD Production: Reflex 0 01480 434333


Album & Artist Information

Instruments: Trombone, (Piano)
Genre: Contemporary
Format: Audio CD
Our Ref: A0274
Label: British Music Label
Year: 2001
Origin: UK

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Also by John Kenny

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The Voice of the Carnyx A Field of Scarecrows The Marshall Plan  
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Locking Horns Nomad