by Paul Epp
Paul Epp is an arranger and performer on trumpet and keyboards in Nashville. His pieces have been performed and recorded by the Nashville Jazz Orchestra and the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music Philharmonia Orchestra. “Inception” was performed and recorded live at CCM in 2010. www.pauleppmusic.com – Zachary Greenberg
Greenberg: Could you talk about how you use narrative in your compositions?
Epp: Some musical compositions are written to explicitly relate to other media such as written stories, or paintings. Music of this type is considered program music, and as a movement, it gained particular popularity in the Romantic era. One of the more well-known examples of program music is Tchaikovsky’s famous overture-fantasy, “Romeo and Juliet.” A particular segment of this piece has been used extensively in cartoons and other exaggerated circumstances to instantaneously cue the viewer that someone has fallen in love.
The instruments of the orchestra are organized in groups with other similar sounding instruments, and each individual instrument has its own character—its own sound—just as characters in a story have their own distinguishing factors. A soft passage of violins playing may be used to communicate a certain femininity or sweetness that a brass section of trombones and trumpets never could. Meanwhile, a solo English horn (close relative of the oboe) may represent a lonely, melancholic voice amongst a powerful barrage of percussion instruments whose power has the unmistakable ability to communicate moments of danger and threat.
“Inception” (written and performed without any knowledge of the movie to be released a few weeks later) is intended to give its audience a familiar yet mysterious sense of tension, release, and beauty. For example, while the basses are holding a low, sustained note at the very beginning of the piece, other instruments are moving in somewhat angular and unsettling ways, creating tension. Something wants to move, but is rooted by an opposing force, only able to break free at the end of the first section. The goal is to evoke the feeling of being drawn in two different directions by opposing forces until something finally breaks and the tension is, even if only for the moment, abated.
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