The Art of Declension

Instrumentation 2/2/2/2; 4/2/3/0; timp + 2 perc; orchestral strings
Percussion requirements (1) mba (low A), vib, glock, pitchpipe (or chrom. harmonica), chimes (share with 2), slide whistle, 3 tomtoms (h/m/l), finger cymbal, 4 susp. cymbals (h to l), triangle, chain rattle, lion’s roar, lg. tamtam; (2) chimes, mba (share with 1), pitchpipe (or chrom. harmonica), snare dr, tambourine, bass dr, bongo, 3 tomtoms (h/m/l, pref. identical to 1), anvil, triangle, lg. tamtam

Timing 14′ in five movements

Composed 1998

Commissioned by the Windsor Symphony with funding from the Ontario Arts Council

World Premiere May 9, 1998, Cleary International Centre Chrysler Theatre, Windsor, Ontario. Windsor Symphony; Susan Haig, conductor

Performances by Windsor Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Kamloops Symphony, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Queen’s University Symphony, Inter-provincial Music Camp Symphony (Ontario)

Programme Notes

Past Perfect Progressive
’s
Pluralia Tantum
Compound-Complex
To Boldly Go

The Art of Declension was first inspired by a conversation I had with Susan Haig, of the Windsor Symphony, in which she commented on her experience that Canadians possess generally high levels of good writing skills. Since then, I have been struck by the many writing transgressions I have noticed in the text of major newspapers, perhaps the most amazing of which was the hyphenation of edge as “ed-ge.” The movements of The Art of Declension are thus inspired by a number of “developments” in current English usage.

Past Perfect Progressive is one of myriad tenses used in the English language (“I had been wondering . . .”) which most of us don’t consider much anymore, now that English functions mainly in the “present tense” only. It depicts the passage of language through time. ’s is about possession, and it is inspired by the common confusion (even among writers who should know better) between “its,” which is possessive in spite of the absence of an apostrophe, and “it’s,” which is not possessive but is a contraction of “it is.” Pluralia Tantum is the official term (as I discovered in The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar) for nouns such as “pants” and “scissors,” which appear only in the plural. This movement, scored for a more intimate chamber orchestra, follows the journey of a lonely violin in search of its other half. A Compound-Complex sentence, according to the Dictionary, has at least two coordinated clauses and at least one subordinate clause. The line may be fine, but to me that sounds suspiciously like a run-on sentence, which is exactly what this movement is. The final movement, To Boldly Go, is inspired by the classic split infinitive made acceptable by Star Trek; but while exploring a certain degree of “interruption,” it recognises that language is a living thing, constantly evolving, and perhaps we should not be chained by the rules that are drummed into us.

The Art of Declension is also a play on Bach’s Art of Fugue, and is a series of orchestral studies designed to showcase the players’ individual and collective talents. As a set, it reflects traditional symphonic elements such as scherzo and gigue.

The Art of Declension was commissioned by the Windsor Symphony through the generous assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts. It is dedicated to the Windsor Symphony in honour of its 50th anniversary, and it received its world première performance on May 9, 1998, at Chrysler Theatre in Windsor’s Cleary International Centre, by the Windsor Symphony, with conductor Susan Haig.

PDF Downloads

Past Perfect excerpt   ‘s excerpt   Pluralia excerpt   Compound excerpt   Boldly Go excerpt

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