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Empty Playgrounds (2015)

For Orchestra (1+Picc.2.2.2 / / 3perc / Pno / Hp / Strings)

Duration: 8'15"

Score and Parts will be available soon through Just a Theory Press

Program Notes:

            Every day, children are taken from their homes and forced into a life of war as they are tricked into becoming child soldiers. Children who have been separated from their parents or whose parents have been killed no longer have an older role model to look up to and so they cling to the first male to come along. Sometimes, their parents are still alive, and these young boys are forced to kill their parents in brutal ways. This way, they have nothing to return to as they become a murderer for life. Encouraged that it will give them energy during the fighting, the young boys are given cocaine and other drugs, unaware of what they are even taking. And so, the hearts and minds of these once innocent children are twisted into cold places of darkness, void of emotion.

            Empty Playgrounds attempts to explore the indescribable psychological transformation that child soldiers are put through. The entire piece uses the melody from a lesser known hymn, “There’s a friend for Little Children,” to represent these children; the long-short rhythm relating to a fun and bouncy childlike personality while the tonality represents the innocence of all children. The melody is at first difficult to ascertain and shrouded in a veil of mysterious dissonances. From this, we already know that this child is doomed to a life of terror before it even takes its first steps. The Celesta and mallet percussion soon pick up the melody and sound very much like a nursery rhyme being played to a child. However, all around this melody, there are sounds that have no place and cause the melody to sound much more haunting than like that of an innocent childhood. By the end of the line, the melody has begun to become affected ever so slightly by the sounds in the environment around it. The melody then begins to be pulled apart, more and more, between instruments as the world around it slowly destroys all its beauty and the piece reaches a place where it seems to not be able to move forward for a moment. The only way that the piece finally can move on, is by sinking even deeper as the lows drop down. The melody has now lost its bouncy rhythm and the innocence of its major tonality as the lows take it over and distort it. Soon, the sirens of war break out and all chaos in these young children’s minds lets loose to the drugs and mayhem. Finally, when all seems to be lost, the mayhem seems to break as lighter sounds take over, though still erratic in their nature. From off in the distance, we hear the melody once again in the low brass. This time, while once again tonal, without the bouncy rhythm it once had. The child’s fun and bouncy childhood has been ripped away and it’s something that they can never recover or have, but the innocence deep within these children can still be saved.

Premiered by students of Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, George Manahan, Conductor; Borden Auditoirum, Manhattan School of Music, New York, NY





Feb. 12th, 2016


Borden Auditorium

Manhattan School of Music

New York, NY

Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra

George Manahan - Conductor

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