Ostinato Suite was originally written for horn and trombone, but at the recent behest of Randall Faust, horn professor at Western Illinois University, I made a version for two horns so that he and I could perform it at his annual horn festival. As we worked on the piece (which is strongly rhythmic), it occurred to me that adding percussion would add timbral variety as well as a rhythmic background to work over, so we cajoled percussion prof Kevin Nichols to join us, improvising various percussion parts. It was terrific – you may certainly perform it without, but it is so much better with percussion. Below we make suggestions what the percussion might do in each movement, but nothing is written out (give your percussionist a copy of the score) it’s really up to the skill and imagination of the player.
If your second horn also improvises, feel free to insert improv sections for them, too. 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!
A couple of ideas on performance:
Movement 1: I start (sitting) stomping a foot (or both feet) on the floor on 1 and 3 with the claps on the offbeats. The second horn solo can be tweaked or drawn out or have rests inserted as desired – first simply claps until the second horn is done. First horn may wait a bit before starting the improvisation. The second horn’s ostinato accompaniments may be played in any order, any number of times, and may be tweaked or entirely improvised – the only rule is to hit the tonic at the beginning of the two measures and a G and/or Bb or B natural at the end). For the improv, use any or all of the following scales: C dominant 7 (1 2 3 4 5 6 b7), C Lydian/Dominant (1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7), C pentatonic major (1 2 3 5 6), C pentatonic minor (1 b3 4 5 b7), or C blues (1 b3 4 #4 5 b7), and perhaps throw in some chromatic noodling as well. Feel free to add extended techniques now and then (e.g. fluttertongue, bends, glissando, etc.). 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. Percussion: Country western style; a 16th note brushes-on-snare (plus bass drum) “train” effect works well. Punctuate every eight bars with some hits as markers for the improviser(s).
Movement 2: Elegy uses that lovely scale known as the Spanish Phrygian for soloing (1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7). Percussion: slow brushes on snare, soft sticks on sus cymbal, etc.
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 G7alt; 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. Percussion: castanets, toms (Habañera rhythms), tambourine.
Movement 4: African Bell refers to the 6/8 rhythmic drum pattern that the accompanying instrument plays while the other solos over it. The second horn ostinato accompaniment patterns may be tweaked or improvised. The horn solos use harmonic minors (b6, natural 7). Give the second horn enough time to prepare when going on after the improvisations – sometimes a long tone works well as an extra signal. Percussion: djembe!
If you have a djembe here, scratch the last horn improv in D minor and give the djembe a solo instead.
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.