Ostinato Suite for Horn and Trombone

I have always marveled that there is so little written for horn and trombone duet, especially since we play together so much in brass quintet. This is an attempt to fill that gap a little, and to give me a chance to play duets with one of the University of Iowa’s best musicians and teachers, David Gier, professor of trombone.

It consists of four movements, contrasting in mood, but is unique in that in each movement there are ‘windows’ of improvisation for the horn player. There are no such chances for the trombone player – David is a great player, but improvisation is not a part of his background. I, of course, couldn’t resist giving myself a chance to stretch out a bit in each movement. I have no objection if you would like to insert ‘windows’ for the trombone to do likewise; why should the horn player have all the fun? On the other hand, if neither of you want to improvise, feel free simply to jump over the improvised section altogether.

There are not a lot of dynamic markings in the parts; I encourage you to add your own. In general, keep in mind that I like to think of the ink as a beginning, not an end. Don’t try to slavishly re-create ‘what the composer intended’. I much prefer that you are inspired by possibilities of what’s here and surprise me with your own version and/or variations. Let your ear tell you what to do more than my ink. See if you can make each performance different! One more idea: we didn’t do it at the premiere, but I wish we would have: adding percussion to the movements could be very interesting…

A couple of ideas on performance:

Movement 1: it’s not notated, but I started (sitting) stomping both feet on the floor on 1 and 3, with the claps on the offbeats. Improv: I used mainly a Lydian/dominant scale for the improv (1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7), but I also like to freely inflect various notes at will, as well as adding extended techniques now and then (fluttertongue, bends, glissando, etc.). Just ideas: you decide for you. In all the movements, there is no set number of measures for improvisation – the soloist plays until he’s done, then gives a gestural cue to continue.

Movement 2, Elegy, uses that lovely scale known as the Spanish Phrygian for soloing (1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7).

Movement 3: experiment with different kinds of minor (i.e. raised or lowered 6 and 7 scale degrees). The G7 altered scale – best is to go talk to a buddy who plays jazz and ask what you might do there. Some quick hints: try Ab melodic minor over it; or Db Lydian/dominant, or perhaps an Ab diminished arpeggio. Don’t feel you have to fill the measure with a blizzard of notes. One or two notes is fine – improvising means making your own tasteful decisions, not necessarily churning out reams of notes.

Movement 4: African Bell refers to the 6/8 rhythmic drum pattern that the accompanying instrument plays while the other solos over it. The horn solos use harmonic minors (b6, natural 7). Give the trombone enough time to prepare when going on after the improvisations – sometimes a long tone works well as an extra signal.

One last thing – in case it’s not completely obvious, I should mention that each movement is based on one or more ostinato (repeating rhythms) figures.

In any case – have fun, experiment and explore.