Donkey Rhubarb (2014)

Donkey Rhubarb is the second in a series of works named after invasive plant species the first of which was Catclaw Mimosa (2011).  The plant is not a rhubarb at all, though they are both members of the Polygonaceae family.  It is also known as Crimson Beauty, German Sausage, Monkey Fungus, Hancock's curse, Elephant Ears, and Mexican Bamboo, among many others.  One of the ways it poses a threat to other flora is by growing tall and spreading its thick leaves like an umbrella which blocks the sunlight from reaching other plants.  I used this as a formal model for the composition.  As the musical material associated with the Donkey Rhubarb develops, it creates a noisy shroud which covers up the previous music.  In the end, a simple melody is used to trim back the wild growth and return to the calmness of the opening.

In 2013-14 I organized a consortium of wind ensembles and individuals (listed below) to collaborate on a new piece for Grade IV bands.  This was quite the challenge for me having been so fortunately pampered by professional performers for years.  The idea of writing for high school and college bands at an intermediate level seemed both exciting and daunting.  I asked for participation from many schools and received a nice response from many.

 

My idea was to involve schools in the process of making a new work.  I kept a published blog throughout the entire process, had video rehearsals with several groups, and in-person rehearsals with others.  We worked on the piece before it was finished in order to make the parts practical and playable.  

 

A large component of this process was the performers and conductor for each group participating in a series of votes to determine the direction of the piece and even its title.  I am of the generation that grew up reading the Choose Your Own Adventure book series.  At the end of each section of these books there would be text such as "Turn to page 44 to enter the Forbidden Chamber or turn to page 163 to go the long way around the mountain."  It was enjoyable to attempt a similar approach for the composing of Donkey Rhubarb.  At five key moments in the piece I actually composed two possible continuations of the musical material; two ways to piece could progress.  The hundreds of participants in the project then voted for which one they preferred, thus collaborating remotely on the content of the piece.  The winner was used and the piece progressed with democratic process.  This was a unique experience for all of us and resulted in music that is truly particular to the group of participants.

 

I am deeply grateful to the following individuals and organizations that supported my work through this process and were willing to experiment with a new way of creating music.  Multas Gratias Tibi!

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Brookville High School (Campbell County, VA)

Cedar Ridge High School (Hillsboro, NC)

Florida Gulf Coast University (Fort Myers, FL)

Roseville Area High School (Roseville, MN)

Lakeland College (Sheboygan, WI)

Minnetonka High School (Minnetonka, MN)

University of Central Missouri (Warrensburg, MO)

Wayzata High School (Plymouth, MN)

Rhodes College (Memphis, TN)

Orono High School (Orono, MN)

University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR)

Mason City High School (Mason City, IA)

Martin Seggelke

Tyler Hall Toti

Armand Hall

Ben Lorenzo

Manhattan Beach Music

Atholton High School (Columbia, MD)

Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin)

Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana)

Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, IL)

University of Chicago

Legacy High School (Broomfield, CO)

Patch American High School (Stuttgart, Germany)

University of West Georgia (Carrollton, GA)

Georgia College (Milledgeville, GA)

Colorado Mesa University (Grand Junction, CO)

Prospect High School (MountProspect, IL)

Riverside Brookfield High School (Riverside, IL)

UW-Milwaukee Youth Wind Ensembles (Milwaukee, WI)

Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Durant, OK)

University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Michigan State U Spartan Youth Winds (East Lansing, MI)

Tennessee Tech University (Cookeville, TN)

© 2019 by Ben Hjertmann, all rights reserved.