David Kechley

In the Dragon’s Garden

Innova 254


VALENCIA: Iberian Musings for Marimba and Saxophone Quartet   Empire Saxophone Quartet with Gordon Stout

1 ...on the edge [5:08]   2 Prayer and Lament with Interjections [7:19]   

3 Please refrain... [4:11]

4 DRIVELINE: A Powerwalk for Guitar and Alto Saxophone  [10:33]   the Ryoanji Duo

Stepping Out   5 Minimum Overdrive [4:07]   6 Midnight Reflection [4:39]   7 Anonymous [1:47]   8 An Easy Burden [3:51]   Empire Saxophone Quartet

9 In the Dragon’s Garden  [15:24]   Floating on the Wind   

Islands in the Sand   The Sea of Stones   Beyond the Wall   

Dancing between the Rocks   the Ryoanji Duo


“Oh, you are a composer...what kind of music do you write?” is still a question I dread, but for this, my third compact disc, I suppose I could say, “saxophone music.” But then people would assume this is a jazz disc so perhaps there is no way to win at this game! 

The notes for Winter Branches (1997), my first disc, expressed discomfort with musical categories. I feel the same discomfort now in describing this diverse collection of work. These pieces may appear less varied at first glance, given the consistent use of the saxophones even with such unlikely companions as acoustic guitar and marimba. However, closer scrutiny reveals that blues forms, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and Asian influences continue to show themselves, but with the addition of medieval references, a minimalist parody, and an obvious Spanish flavor. Perhaps this latter characteristic is expected when guitar is involved. However, it is much more apparent in the saxophones and marimba. Despite all of this diversity, European classical roots are clear in the structural plans and compositional techniques, providing a kind of glue that holds everything together.


Without categorizing this music, I will admit to characteristics common to all. Each piece evokes a broad range of emotion, fully exploits the instruments, challenges the performers, and is intended to engage the active listener. I leave the question of category to others. —David Kechley, Williamstown, 2002


David Kechley is a “New Englander” who grew up in Seattle, attending Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington, where he studied composition with Paul Tufts, William Bergsma, James Beale, and Robert Suderburg. In 1976 he began his trek east as far

as Ohio to attend the Cleveland Institute of Music and study with Donald Erb. In 1979 he continued on to the Atlantic Ocean, accepting a position at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and in 1986, he was called to the Berkshires by Williams College, where he now resides. Kechley has produced a large body of work performed by orchestras, chamber groups and individuals throughout the world. His music has been awarded prizes including the 1995 Lee Ettelson Prize for In the Dragon’s Garden. His work has also been recognized by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Barlow and Howard Foundations. One of the primary sources of his inspiration and support is Jerilee Taverniti, his spouse of 32 years, along with his three children, Aaron, Benjamin, and Anthea.


VALENCIA: Iberian Musings for Marimba and

Saxophone Quartet   Empire Saxophone Quartet with Gordon Stout

1 ...on the edge [5:08]   2 Prayer and Lament with Interjections [7:19]   

3 Please refrain...[4:11]

Valencia: Iberian Musings for Marimba and Saxophone Quartet was influenced by a trip to Spain in September of 1997, but also owes much to previous works such as In the Dragon’s Garden and Stepping Out. The first movement, ...on the Edge was later orchestrated to become the opening of Transformations: An Orchestral Triptych. It is a fast virtuoso piece with the marimba maintaining a perpetual motion punctuated by the saxophones’ exclamatory remarks. Even as it becomes more lyrical, its rhythm and tempo are relentless. Prayer and Lament with Interjections juxtaposes several moods requiring the marimba and saxophones to reverse roles. The marimba is effective in the role of rhythm machine, but its ability to create sustained, almost organ-like sonorities is quite remarkable. The “prayer” which opens this movement is such a passage and the saxophones later articulate the “lament” against this backdrop. The “interjections” range from a few notes to a more extended section forming the return connection to a more anguished “lament.” Please refrain... refers to the playful vamp that sets the pace for this energetic and sparkling, rondo-like movement. The catchy opening rhythm was suggested by a Cedar Walton tune, Bolivia, introduced to bassist Kechley by his pianist son, Aaron, on a playing engagement. Despite its repetitive vamp element, this movement continues to create entertaining variations on the material introduced in the first movement.


4  DRIVELINE: A Powerwalk for Guitar

and Alto Saxophone [10:33]   the Ryoanji Duo

Driveline: A Powerwalk for Guitar and Alto Saxophone was commissioned and premiered by The Ryoanji Duo at the Eleventh World Saxophone Congress in Valencia, Spain. Driveline refers to the single melody “line” which opens the work with great energy and rhythmic momentum, setting the music into motion like the drive shaft (or line) in a car or truck. The aggressive, walking bass or “powerwalk” melody is then elaborated by each instrument as it moves through an ever more elaborate set of variations.


The score states that this work “...honors the memory of Abraham C. Keller, a good friend, and a well-known political and social activist in Seattle. He had a reputation for unbending principles and a boundless energy to do battle on countless local and global issues. The tenacity and momentum of the music as well as its reflective moments are a most appropriate tribute to Abe’s memory.”


Stepping Out   5 Minimum Overdrive [4:07]   6 Midnight Reflection [4:39]   7 Anonymous [1:47]   8 An Easy Burden [3:51]   Empire Saxophone Quartet

Stepping Out is an appropriate, if not the most original, title for a work in which each of the movements is based on the interval of a step up and back. Thus the title seems to describe a changing state of being in those who listen to or perform the work and is similar to terms such as mellowing out, tripping out, stressing out, chilling out, or even pigging out. By the end of the piece the audience, performers, and even the composer will be “totally stepped out.” Minimum Overdrive seems at first to call for some sort of “minimalist” interpretation before it suddenly moves toward funky rhythms and blues forms. There may also be a reference here to the title of a 1980’s movie based on a Stephen King story and filmed in Wilmington, NC, where the composer once lived. Kechley has acknowledged this possibility, but has declined to name the film. Midnight Reflection alludes to fragmented and slightly nostalgic thoughts experienced late at night or in the early morning hours. The “steps” are changed from whole to half and turn into long lyrical lines interspersed with silence and the irregular ticking of a distant clock.

Anonymous is one of the most revered of medieval composers, according to Kechley, and the triple meter, “crude” counterpoint (to some ears), and repetitive nature serve as an irreverent tribute. The stepwise figures still function as the basis of this dance-like movement which owes its A-B-A structure and third movement placement to the classical minuet and trio. An Easy Burden also has a medieval connotation not because of its sound, but its form and title. The “burden” in this case is the repeated chorus or refrain between each “verse.” This burden is easy to listen to and begins with a motto featuring the opening steps. Even the verses stay close to their stepwise origins and the entire movement closes as peacefully as it began, an unusual closing for a four-movement work which begins with such energy.


9  In the Dragon’s Garden [15:24]___Floating on the Wind   

Islands in the Sand   

The Sea of Stones   Beyond the Wall   Dancing between the Rocks   

the Ryoanji Duo

In the Dragon’s Garden is the final piece on the disc, but most importantly it represents a turning point in the composer’s work. It was inspired by several visits to Ryoanji, a temple in Kyoto, Japan. Ryoanji roughly translates as “dragon-temple,” probably because of the large dragon painted on one of the inner walls. More significantly this temple contains one of the most famous Zen gardens in the world. Fifteen large rocks are set with precise randomness in a carefully raked rectangle of small white stones, and the entire garden is surrounded by low earthen walls. In this garden, one is free to imagine the many possible meanings it may have. Some of these are reflected in the subtitles of the various sections which continue from one to the next with few obvious beginnings or endings.


The composer himself has not claimed the work to be Japanese in sound, although others have. The melodic and harmonic material, shaku hatchi-like bending of pitches on the saxophone, and even the roll-off gesture similar to the wood block sounds used in Zen temples all contribute. The composer has indicated the most important aspects to be the structural aesthetic concepts exemplified by the use of irregular accents which seem naturally placed, but are carefully calculated with “precise randomness” just like the large rocks in the garden. Some years after completing the work, Kechley attended a Monet exhibition in which the artist was alleged to have described some of his own paintings in a similar way, having also been influenced by the Zen aesthetic of the Japanese garden. The musical ideas, which sprang forth from this work in 1992, have clearly continued to influence Kechley’s work since that time.


The Ryoanji Duo is one of the first guitar and saxophone duos to emerge in recent years. Frank Bongiorno and Robert Nathanson began their collaboration in Pesaro, Italy at the World Saxophone Congress in 1992 with the commission and premiere of In the Dragon’s Garden and later took their name from the Japanese temple that inspired this work. The duo has commissioned, performed, and recorded many new works for this pioneering medium.

The Empire Saxophone Quartet was formed in 1987 and has recorded and performed a variety of musical styles in upstate, New York, New England, Eastern Canada and elsewhere. Its members are Steven Mauk, Jamal Rossi, April Lucas, and Anthony Alduino.


Gordon Stout is known internationally as a virtuoso marimbist, teacher and composer. He has recorded extensively both his own works and those of others.


Thanks to Rob and Frank for encouraging me to write for guitar and saxophone individually and in combination and for their many hours of practice as

a consequence

Thanks to Williams College for its generous financial support and Ithaca College, School of Music for the use of its facilities

Valencia and Stepping Out recorded at Ithaca College by John Mehne and edited by Toby Mountain

Driveline recorded at Sonic Wave Recording Studio by Mark Cimerro and edited

by Rob Nathanson

In the Dragon’s Garden originally recorded at Coastal Carolina Recording Studio by Scott Houle, remixed and re-edited by Toby Mountain with new material recorded at Sonic Wave Recording Studio by Mark Cimerro

Final Mastering by Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital Recording, Inc.

Graphic Design by Rose Michelle Taverniti

Produced by David Kechley