Chasing the Devil
About this work:
Chasing the Devil (1995)
I have a long-standing interest in vampire movies and stories. Some years ago I watched Vincent Price's Dracula, a sort of vampire documentary, in which the actor describes something called a "tuaca". This is basically a long slab of oak that is used by priests in Rumania, supposedly to freighten vampires. I asked a Rumanian friend of mine about this. He wasn't aware of the hand-held ecclesiastical version of the tuaca, nor it's use as a vampire repellant, but he was familiar with another type. In some villages a large rectangular piece of oak is pounded with hammers to attract people to town for celebrations and important events. The men try to outdo one another in their ability to keep up the noise. Their endurance records are carved into the wood for future reference.
[Note: Since writing this piece and accompanying notes, I have done considerably more research. The Rumanian "tuaca" is well-known throughout eastern Europe in many versions and by many names, most commonly the "simantron". It is a precursor of, and sometimes substitute for, church bells, dating from the early centuries of the Christian era, and still in use in orthodox monasteries to announce the hours of prayer.]
Once I got this image in my mind a piece started forming around it. During the first section the tuaca pounds away and the notes of a melody are gathered around it. Once the tune is established the percussionist merges with the ensemble and the piece develops from there.
A second type of 'devil chaser' is also used - a slit bamboo tube used as a toy in the Philipines and Indonesia. And of course, the interval of a tritone (once considered the 'devil in music') figures prominently in the pitch language of the piece.
Chasing the Devil was composed for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
Year composed: 1995
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 6-9 players
Instrumentation: 2 Clarinet, 1 Cornet, 1 Trombone, 1 Percussion (General), 1 Violin, 1 Double bass
Instrumentation notes: Please note that the instrumentation listed is purely hypothetical. The specific requirements are: 4 "melody instruments " (i.e. treble); a "low" instrument, such as cello, bass clarinet, or bassoon; a true bass instrument (please do not confuse a cello with a bass), and one percussion. The percussion part ideally uses 18 bell plates, but chimes will suffice. Also requires an oak plank, a bamboo devil chaser, and a bass drum.